Sunday, September 22, 2019

Agent 110: An American Spymaster and the German Resistance in WWII by Scott Miller

I'm kind of going off the rails here, but this song used to really move me when I was in middle school: George Harrison's What is Life?

Agent 110: An American Spymaster and the German Resistance in WWIIAgent 110: An American Spymaster and the German Resistance in WWII by Scott  Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a very interesting book for a number of reasons.

First up is the reason why I bought the book. It was about espionage, always exciting. Secondly, it takes place towards the end of WWII, a time period I have been enjoying reading about and all you fellow fans of Foyle's War would enjoy the book for that reason.

Finally, Miller presents information of which I was not previously aware.

Allen Dulles is an agent for the U.S. in the O.S.S., the precursor to the C.I.A. He has been assigned to Switzerland to flush out any Germans disenchanted with Hitler and the Nazi's and persuade them to provide essential information to the Allies leading toward defeating Hitler and his regime.

Dulles is able to contact the German resistance movement, a group of Germans who are trying to overthrow Hitler internally. They were responsible for several failed assassination attempts on Hitler's life. Dulles and the cooperative Germans work together through the final year of the war.

Miller sheds new light on the fact there was a significant internal resistance to Hitler throughout the war and on more than one occasion, the Allies unintentionally thwarted their attempts at organizing the Germans against Hitler, which might have lead to the overthrow of Hitler from the inside. This was no doubt due to a lack of awareness that such an organization even existed on the Allies' part.

There are several reasons for this, but you'll have to read the book, because it's too involved to try to sum up here.

The book is non fiction but reads like a high action suspense novel. Many of the resistance members were actually part of the Nazi regime, which is why they were able to access valuable information and carry it to Dulles. When Hitler fell, many of them were racing to escape and some of them ended in prison until Dulles could come to the rescue and explain their real role in the war. Some of them were later used as witnesses against other Nazis during the Nuremberg Trials.

Miller writes in a way that shows us the lives of each player involved on both sides of the war. He also provides a follow up at the end of the book to let us know what happened to each of the major players after the war up to their death.

I think this book is an excellent and unique source of WWII history.

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Here is another Schumann:  Sonata no. 11, The Peharia.

I found my copy at a book fair and it was cheap.  You can tell it's pretty beat up so I'd like to get a better copy.  The problem is, from what I've read this is the best translator.  Penguin is probably my favorite paperback edition, but they have a different translator.  Maybe I'll buy it anyway, just to have an attractive copy, and, anyway, I can compare the two translations and see which one I like better.

Can I be a little snarky?  Years ago, I had a friend from Switzerland who, while I liked very much, if she thought you said something stupid, she could be quite sarcastic about it, in order to make you feel stupid.

I was mentioning that my mother liked to read a few translations of the same Russian novel to see which she liked better.

"Oh?" My friend asked with a sarcastic smile.  "Your mother speaks Russian?"

I was too busy feeling stupid to realize that she misunderstood me.  I didn't say my mother was comparing translations for accuracy, and my mother didn't have to know Russian to know which English translation she liked better.  

It does bring up something that does bother me.  Which is the best translation of a book?  The one that is the most literal or captures the essence of the meaning.  There are ways we express ourselves in one language that simply doesn't translate into another, so one needs to find an appropriate idiomatic equivalent.

I suppose we have to accept that a large part of an author's writing style will be lost.  Ah, well.

Here is my review as I published it on Goodreads.

WeWe by Yevgeny Zamyatin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I saw this book for a dime at a library book fair and I've read other people's reviews about it so I felt I should give it a go.

This is a science fiction/dystopian novel that is as chilling as it is fascinating. The narrator is living in a reality that has become perfect, thanks to basing it on mathematical principals. There is no "I" only "We". Each person has their identity buried in the whole, like a cog in a machine.

Things that make life worth living, like human relationships, romance, are replaced with satisfying physical urges, like sex. You don't even have to work up an artificial premise like at a bar. You simply take a number of the person you want to have sex with and a time is set up.

No one has a name, only a number. One's purpose in life is to make sure the "whole" is working. There is no soul. If you find you have one, you undergo an "operation" to remove it.

The narrator talks in delirious hyperbole to describe how absolutely wonderful life is under the "Benefactor", but cracks start to appear. The logic he has lived by isn't following through. Loose endings increasingly appear as he more and more desperately tries to resolve or suppress them.

His Achilles Heel is love for someone else. A woman. Her name is I-330, as his is D-305. Love does not fit into the equation set up by the Benefactor, only existence.

The story is beautifully written. I can see how the premise was the inspiration for George Orwell's 1984, but while I found Orwell's more understandable and consequently more bleak, Zamyatin's novel is far more poetic, but also harder to understand.

I found his metaphor's and vivid imagery rich and colorful, but I also wondered at times what was going on. The descriptions were psychedelic, to say the least. I had a hard time knowing whether the author was using metaphor or literal descriptions when stating that she "pierced me with the spears of her eyelashes." Or whether when I-330 spreads her pink gills out like wings....does she really have gills? Or what is he saying?

Maybe it was the translation. Mirra Ginsburg was the translator and from what I've read, she's the best. However, I am curious now to read another. Not that she wouldn't be the most accurate, but I wonder if I would find another translation equally mystifying.

At the end of the day, I am glad I read it and maybe I'll understand it better with a different translation or when I'm older and, hopefully, wiser.

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Here's a photo of a postcard that I sent across the world to a pen pal buddy.  Vintage photography is my favorite!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

Here is Rachmaninoff playing his own Piano Concerto no. 2.

I had the sprinkler on for four hours, naturally this happened as soon as I turned the sprinkler off.  Ah well.  The modern American rain dance is washing your car or watering your lawn.

The Cheltenham Square MurderThe Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's always exciting to discover a new author. Of course, I always find books exciting, but coming across this book was an unexpected pleasure.

Josh and I were in Austin haunting all the independent bookstores there. I came across the Cheltenham Square Murder in a bin for a dollar. I did not know the author, but the British Library Crime Classic edition was appealing, and also, the author died in 1957, which meant his books were written during the Golden Era of mystery writing. Besides, if the book stunk, I was only out a dollar.

John Bude is now an author whose books I am going to hunt until I have them all. There's about 37 of them so I'm going to have fun for a while.

Summary, no spoilers: Meredith has come to Cheltenham to visit a friend who is a mystery writer. While there an accident occurs where a stray arrow seems to have shot through a window and unfortunately hit a man in the back of his head and killed him.

As events develop and clues emerge, it becomes apparent that perhaps it was not an accident but a murder. But who and why?

What did I like about this story? It was very well developed. Unlike many mysteries that deliver a punch at the end, Bude's characters are thinking through every new clue, every unexpected event and, even though there were quite a few turns...previous "facts" turned false because of newly uncovered evidence, which cause the suspect list to change like the colors on a chameleon.

Consequently the story really pulls you along as you keep "solving" and "re-solving" the mystery as new facts and events emerge.

Also, everybody and every action was believable. There was never a sarcastic "Right. Like that would happen" moment.

At first I was afraid the characters were going to be one-dimensional, and while the supporting cast was less developed, the main characters were immensely likable.

Which brings us to the final and probably most important reason I liked this book. The main characters, Inspector Long and Superintendent Meredith are interesting, smart, and insightful. They respect the other characters and have a good sense of humor at their own expense as much as anybody's.

I'm happy to find that Meredith will be the detective in all the other mystery stories Bude wrote. Interestingly enough, he also wrote science fiction and fantasy as well. Those aren't my favorite genres, but I'm encouraged to give Bude's work a try.

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Capitvated C.S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria

Here's a little Poulenc:  Trio for Oboe Bassoon and Piano, FP 43

My eyes have been aching lately, so I've been cutting down on my reading (a little) to give them a rest.  Instead I've been fooling around with painting.  Josh and I have a lot of acrylics, oils etc. that have never been opened.  We bought each other a bunch of art supplies one Christmas with visions of merrily spending our weekends creating together.

That was a couple of Christmases ago and so far it hasn't happened.  Until now. Well, not with Josh, but on my own I've been experimenting with color and shapes, which is about all I'm capable of.  After this post I plan on attempting a watercolor of Hercule.  We'll see if it looks like a bird, much less like a parrot, much, much less like Hercule.

Here are some samples of my work.  It's, uh, abstract.

I call this Yellow and Brown on Red and Pink.

Josh said this one looks like floating leaves.  Therefore I shall call it...Floating Leaves.

This one is titled, "Green and Blue".

And my piece de resistance:

I call this, "The Torment Between Existence vs. Non-Being."

Just joking. I call it "Oil on Acrylic on Plastic on Canvas" because I forgot to take the plastic wrap off the canvas before painting it.

But enough of these frivolities.  Here's my review for the week:

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. LewisJoy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was an insightful and informative biography of someone who seems to be controversial for a lot of C.S. Lewis fans. Or maybe just to the people who knew him best. Many of Lewis's friends did not like Joy Davidson. They found her coarse and abrasive. They were afraid that Lewis was once again setting himself up for another unhealthy co-dependent relationship. After 25 years waiting hand and foot on Mrs. Moore, they felt Lewis was happiest living out his remaining days as a comfortable bachelor.

And it seems that Lewis himself had envisioned such a life for himself.

And then Joy Davidson exploded on the scene. She did not hide her intentions and was quite aggressive about pursuing them. The result? Joy and Jack (as he was called by friends) got married, at least briefly. Soon into their relationship, Joy came down with cancer and most of their married life was riddled with sickness, stress and finally grief.

But also, inexpressible joy.

Readers wanting an in depth view of Joy and Jack's relationship will do better to look elsewhere, while Lewis does come into the picture it is only in the last quarter of the book.

This book is primarily about Joy and her life from baby hood, to brilliant academic (she entered high school at the age of nine), passionate communist,successful writer in her own right, then a detour down the road of L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics and finally, Christianity.

Joy's parents were Jewish immigrants and while they came in dire poverty, they became educated and professional. No doubt, this drive for success, overcoming Antisemitism, and ultimately succeeding, caused her parents to expect no less from their children. In fact they expected more.

Joy's parents, especially her dad, was a hard man to get along with, both professionally and personally. His disciplinarian methods and rigid standards on Joy bordered on abuse. He was more concerned with her succeeding than developing social skills, something that affected Joy the rest of her life, and no doubt contributed to her abrasive personality.

Santamaria takes us through all of Joys journeys, finally culminating in her marriage to C.S. Lewis.

I'd say she was pretty even handed and her history of Joy's life agrees with other records, however, Santamaria had access to letters and first hand testimonies from family members that others, whose focus was on Lewis, did not have access to.

I should point out that no one has access to the letters between Lewis and Joy because they destroyed their personal correspondence. However, there was an abundant supply of records and such from other sources, which the author makes full use of.

This is not a sanitized version of Joy's life, if there ever was one, since she was so disliked by so many who have written about Joy, usually in the context of her relationship with C.S. Lewis. Joy could be extremely selfish, neglecting her sons for the sake of her writing career, and pursuit of Lewis. She was extravagant with her money and others' but stingy in sharing.

She left her husband Bill Gresham, with their sons for five months while she lived in England to get to know and hopefully engage in a romantic relationship with Lewis, but later demanded custody and full child support after she divorced Bill (something she fought for, although Bill had admitted to falling in love with her cousin), and then spent the money freely all the while writing insulting letters informing Bill of how horrible he was while demanding more money.

What I found strange was how she wrote Bill about her romance with Lewis and continued to write to him up to her death.

Frankly Joy can come off as a bit of a monster, and yet Lewis fell in love with her. Why?

Maybe because he saw something, or experienced something others failed to see or experience. Maybe love isn't always about taking, it's also about serving. Maybe Lewis understood that. Maybe he loved her unconditionally.

What we do see in the book that after Joy was struck down with cancer, is that she softened, in her character,and especially in her understanding of God's love. Even those who previously were against the marriage rallied around her in support to comfort her during her extreme physical suffering.

Maybe God used Joy to show His own unconditional love to the rest of us who are also wretched in sin and selfishness.

However your feelings are on the subject, this is a fascinating book to read. I think I would enjoy a film about the real Joy. The one impossible to get along with, yet loved by the greatest apologist of the 20th century.

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Life of Picasso 1907-1917 by John Richardson

Another Schumann.  This one is dear to me because I played it for my Master's recital another life ago:  Kreisleriana Op. 16.  Johannes Kreisler was a character in E.T.A. Hoffman's absurdist stories.  He was a mad Kapellmeister (choral director).  The directions Schumann wrote is to start the work "playing as fast as you can".  By the end his directions are "play faster still".  It reminds me of the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."
"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!

If you listen, you hear Kreisleriana galloping on his horse to church.  He gets there and directs a choir, real or imaginary, it is not known.  When he finishes, he jumps back onto his horse and "races off in all directions."

A Life of Picasso, Vol. 2: The Painter of Modern Life, 1907-1917A Life of Picasso, Vol. 2: The Painter of Modern Life, 1907-1917 by John  Richardson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is the second of three volumes of the artist's life. The first one traced his early life and this one continues as Picasso becomes entrenched in the Parisian Bohemian world, surrounding himself with artists, poets, writers, and in the last chapters,the ballet.

These years largely concentrate around Picasso's cubist works and his relationship with other cubist artists, especially Braque.

We also learn about his tempestuous love affairs, leaving off one, another one dying, and yet others who abandon him.

This is also the Great War years, where many of his colleagues joined in the fight, while Picasso, belonging to a neutral country, stayed out. He also chose to stay out of Paris for most of the war years to avoid the humiliation of a woman handing him a white feather, which the ladies of Paris were offering to all the men who refused to go to the front.

This volume ends just as Picasso is becoming involved with Diaghilev's Ballet troupe, creating sets, collaborating with Eric Satie, whom he admired, and Jean Cocteau, whom he loathed.

We are just introduced to the ballerina Olga Khokhlova, whom Picasso will eventually marry, when the volume rather abruptly ends.

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A postcard I send out to people in my international postcard swap club.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

There is A God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Antony Flew

Jascha Heifetz playing Bach's Chaconne from Partita no. 2 in D minor.

Here's some paintings I created with acryllic on canvas.  I'm more about form and color than concrete subject matter, although I am trying to master watercolors by painting birds. I plan to turn them into post cards for my pen pal friends.

There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His MindThere Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Antony Flew
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Philospher and former atheist Antony Flew set the agenda for modern atheism with his 1950 essay "Theology and Falsification" his commitment to "follow the argument wherever it leads" led him to a belief in God as Creator. (From the back of the book)

I had heard of Flew a number years ago because of his radical turn from atheism to deism in his eighties. I love to hear people's arguments as to how they arrive at conclusions and this book does not disappoint. Imminently readable and coherent, this is an excellent book for those with questions about the existence of God, who believe in God and would like to hear intelligent reasons to believe, or people who do not believe in God but are curious as to how someone who was an atheist became convinced of an intelligent creator.

The first part of the book gives Flew's history and why he was an atheist. He comprehensively and clearly gives all the arguments he had for not believing in the existence of a Creator. He also provides other's arguments as well.

The second part discusses his change and the arguments in favor of a creator and the world being intelligently designed.

A couple of things. I thought it was interesting that his basic premise in his atheist years was that people who believe in God must prove there is a God, but no such responsibility rests on atheists to prove that there is no God.

He then provides several reasons how there must be a god, such as the human mind, intelligence and consciousness. The impossibility of evolution producing self-awareness or the ability to love or hate or enjoy our lives. To give it meaning and purpose.

He tackles evolution and points out the fallacy of believing something could come from nothing and imbue it with meaning and purpose. That if we are intelligent, we must have been created by an intelligent First Cause. He deals with the argument that if the universe had a beginning or a creator, than so must God. He shows that we know the universe has a beginning and it doesn't follow that God must have a beginning. There must be a first cause. He lists several laws of nature, such as Newton's first law of motion, namely that an objection at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force etc..

He argues that we can only exist by the laws that create the environment we live in. These laws had to be in place before we could exist. So how did the universe know that we were coming?

His best illustration involves an experiment a scientist made of monkeys. It was an actual experiment based on the hypothesis that given enough time monkeys would type out a Shakespearean sonnet. I suppose this was to support the idea that anything, no matter how intelligent, could happen by chance.

"A computer was placed in a cage with six monkeys. After one month of hammering away at it...the monkeys produced fifty typed pages-but not a single word (including 'I' or 'a')...

...If we take it that the keyboard has thirty characters...then the likelihood of getting a one-letter word is 30 times 30 times 30, which is 27,000. The likelihood of getting a one-letter word is one chance out of 27.000....

If you took the entire universe and converted it to computer chips...each one weighing a millionth of a gram and had each computer chip able to spin out 488 trials at, say, a million times a second; if you turned the entire universe into these microcomputer chips and these chips were spinning a million times a second random letters, the number of trials you would get since the beginning of time would be 10 to the 90th trials. It would be off again by a factor of 10 to the 600th. You will never get a sonnet by chance. The universe would have to be 10 to the 600th time larger. Yet the world thinks the monkeys can do it every time" (pg. 77)

In addition he points out that natural selection does not positively produce anything. It only eliminates, or tends to eliminate, whatever is not competitive. So how do you arrive at something to begin with through the process of elimination?

He tackles Richard Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" successfully and acutely.

"Dawkins...labored to discount..the upshot of fifty or more years' work in genetics-the discovery that the observable traits of organisms are for the most part conditioned by the interactions of many genes, while most genes have manifold effects on many such traits...

Then, after insisting that we are all the choiceless creatures of our genes, he infers that we cannot help but share the unlovely personal characteristics of those all-controlling monads."

There are many more arguments such as finding a marble table on the beach, no one would assume it "naturally developed there", or, after millions and millions of years would become conscious, much less self-aware, yet the simplest organism is more complex than a marble table and people believe the people who made the table were developed by chance.

Flew concludes with the perceptive statement that the driving motive behind adhering to evolution is to negate God.

I checked this book out of the library, but then bought it because I want to write in the margins and make highlights.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in this subject.

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Inquiring pigeons observing a photographer who was lying on his back to photograph the ceiling.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Way Some People Die by Ross MacDonald; The Yellow Dog by Georges Simenon

Here is Schubert's "Little Sonata in A Major".  Enjoy.

I had the below phone cover for a while.  I love Paris and this cover made me feel good every time I looked at it.  But, alas, it broke one day when my phone fell off a table.

But I bought another one, made out of gel this time, so it shouldn't ever break.  I felt this picture captures the traveling spirit of Josh and me because we love road trips, although we usually drive in his Miata convertible.  I'm deathly afraid of motorcycles, but it's the idea.  Looking at this phone case makes me think of all the places we've been to and the places we'll go.

The Way Some People DieThe Way Some People Die by Ross Macdonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm a huge Ross MacDonald fan and Lew Archer is one of my favorite private detectives.

In this mystery a woman asks Archer to find her daughter. The daughter works as a nurse but has run off with one of the patients.

This takes Lew on a trail of underworld crime, drugs, gang wars and a good surprise ending.

If you like mysteries, this one is sterling.

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My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I really like these Penguin editions of Simenon's mysteries. That's just form, not substance, I understand, but some editions make the reading experience more pleasurable. I don't know why.

This mystery is one of Simenon's earlier works. It was published in 1931. It's good to put that in context so you understand, when they talk about The War, they are talking about WWI.

A man leaves a cafe. It is very windy and he cannot light his cigar. He steps into the entrance by the door of an empty house, bends his head over and concentrates on lighting. Then he keels over.

A security guard has been watching him and smiles at the man's drunken gestures, but when the man does not move, he becomes concerned. It turns out the man has been shot.

How and why did this man get shot? This mystery takes place in a small fishing town away from Paris so our Inspector Maigret works with the local police and also his subordinate Leroy. Actually they all work with Maigret. He does not compromise, he ignores the insistent press demanding information and calmly traces the man's connections and finds a network of friends, all who are extremely scared about the attempt on their friend's life.

Did one of them do it? Did someone else? And what about this huge yellow dog that is hanging around? Who does he belong to? Why is the dog and his owner in the town and do they have anything to do with the crime?

And are more crimes going to be committed? Read the book.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Just Kids by Patti Smith

I may have mentioned that French music of the turn of the last century is one of my all time favorite eras to listen to.  Here is Debussy's 12 Etudes, performed by Cecile Ousset.

You may have noticed the abundance of birds in the background of the above photo.  I went to Hobby Lobby and got a little crazy.  Everything was 50 to 75% off and all the birds were irresistible.  I also bought some art supplies.  I've decided to acquire another creative outlet, but I'll talk more about that later.

Just KidsJust Kids by Patti Smith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I can't say I find Patti Smith attractive or her music interesting, but for some reason I find her as a person intriguing, in the same way I find the Sex Pistols intriguing. And for the same reason I've been reading about music of the seventies that I was not aware of (they only played the BeeGees and Donna Summer on the radio where I lived in Florida). I wanted to know more about this strange woman and her contribution to Punk Rock and music in general.

We learn of Patti's brave and adventurous move to New York City as a young woman. She goes hungry, sleeps on park benches and steals, until she meets Robert Mapplethorpe, a young man in the same situation. They move in together, become lovers and fellow survivors. They work and live off mostly Patti's earnings at a book shop. Robert seems to have trouble keeping a steady job and the only thing he seems to be good at and enjoys is prostituting his body.

Patti states this as a fact devoid of emotion or even a sense that it's wrong. Neither does she seem bothered by the fact that she contracts gonorrhea from Mapplethorpe.

In fact a conventional sense of right and wrong seems to be lacking in the whole book. One of the most disturbing events is when she describes Mapplethorpe stealing a William Blake out of store and then feeling remorseful, tears it up into tiny pieces and flushes it down the toilet. I am still in disbelief. Surely this wasn't an authentic Blake? How could anyone destroy irreplaceable art like that?

There are gaps as well. Smith and Mapplethorpe are starving artists barely scraping by in Brooklyn, then they're living in the Chelsea Hotel rubbing shoulders with Janis Joplin, Allen Ginsburg, and members of the Andy Warhol Factory clan. How did that happen?

Smith and Mapplethorpe continue to live together encouraging each other's art, eventually getting other lovers. Mapplethorpe gets a rich sugar daddy that launches his career and Smith lives with a married man, Sam Sheppard, knowing that it won't last, but seems to accept its short life span as inevitable.

This really confounds me. Is Smith really OK with the transience of her relationships with no conscience that she became a man's mistress and no doubt the heartbreak of his wife? Are those the standards she set for herself? Does her vision take her no higher?

Then another gap. Patti is on her way to stardom, but she fails to provide us with the intermediary steps. Also the fact that she did finally marry and have children and stayed married till her husband's death parted them.

Also, don't expect this book to inform you of her music or artistic work. It's the story she promised Robert she would tell after he died.

Patti talks about rebellion and her own rebellious spirit. When she was a child she asked her mother why she couldn't just kick in the shop windows they were passing. Her mother gave some mumbling, "you just can't" sort of answer.

I would like to answer that question now. You do have the freedom to kick in those shop windows. But you do not have the freedom to escape the consequences of that freedom. You're free to kick in shop windows and the shop owner is free to come out and pull you up by your thick, scraggly hair, swing your skinny little body around and let you fly off into the street.

Rebellion is not freedom and it's not creative. It's reactionary. You have to wait for someone else to create before you can knock it down. Rebellion is one of the most unimaginative states to live in.

Patti had the freedom to sleep with Mapplethorpe, but did she have the freedom to keep her heart soft and pliable? Or did it turn into Teflon? Or, like Janis Joplin sang, every lover takes a little piece of your heart and after a while, there's no heart left.

Mapplethorpe got what he wanted. His rich lover made him famous, and admittedly, the quality of his photographs deserve it. But neither of them had the freedom to live very long. They both died of AIDS. I wonder who gave it to whom?

This book got me thinking about a lot of things.

I don't think Bohemianism is all it is cracked up to be.

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson

I love twentieth century music and I hope you all will enjoy listening to Carl Nielsen's Wind Quintet Op. 43 performed by the Galliard Ensemble.

The Lost WeekendThe Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was quite the eye opener. I have never suffered from alcohol or drug addictions nor have I lived with anyone suffering from this sickness. Sickness it certainly is. How someone arrives at this state, I don't know. I'm sure there are a lot of different causes, both environmental and genetic, but based on this semi-autobiographical account by Charles Jackson, I think that one's mental faculties become seriously impaired.

The Lost Weekend is about one man's nightmarish life. His entire reason to live is to get that next drink. Don Birnam is a writer, we are not informed as to how successful he is. Not very, the reader gathers since he lives with his brother and has no money. What little money he is able to beg, borrow and steal is quickly liquidated, pun intended.

The story takes place in 1936 on the East Side of Manhatten. Don Birnam is sitting in a chair in his brother's apartment. His brother is about to go away for the weekend and he pleads with his brother to come with him. They argue back and forth, but Don is adamant that he is not leaving his chair. His brother finally gives up and leaves.

Thus begins a drinking binge that starts on Friday and doesn't end until the following Tuesday, when his brother returns.

We live inside Don's mind. We know his every thought. We see him lie at the bar, so people will buy him drinks, he lies to the woman at the laundromat who doesn't want to give him money because she knows what he'll do with it, but it's just a loan you see...yeah take it and go away...

We listen to his thoughts as he becomes inebriated and delusional. It's so painful to watch. He takes a taxi to an upscale bar where he drinks himself into believing that he can steal the purse from the woman next to him and get away with it, because he has super powers. He's smarter than everyone else in the whole world. Then the humiliating exposure as the woman and her boyfriend demand the purse back and the bouncer throws him out.

But where can he get the next drink? Where's his money? He has it, then he doesn't have it. Here it is in his coat pocket. Now it's not there. What happened to it? He doesn't know what's going on.

He decides he must sell his typewriter. He carries it blocks and blocks to a pawn shop, but the shop is closed. Why is it closed? He has to carry his typewriter back. It's miserably heavy.

What day is it? Is it still Friday? No it's Saturday.

Then he's in the hospital. How did he end up there? That's right, he fell down the stairs as he was returning to the apartment.

The doctor and nurse treat him and the other patients, it's a ward for drug addicts and alcoholics, like specimens. His head is badly fractured and they want him to stay until he is properly treated, but he refuses. They give him a pain killer which is great! Where can he get more of this stuff? He wheedles the nurse but the nurse won't budge.

He leaves and somehow makes it back home. The phone rings incessantly, probably his brother checking on him, but he won't answer. He doesn't want to speak to anyone or see anyone.

He finds he has to see someone because the woman who has been trying to contact him all weekend finally shows up at his apartment. The janitor has let her in.

She takes him to her house and tries to get him to shower and rest. The next morning when she goes to work, he rifles through her stuff to see if she has any liquor. He finally leaves with her fur coat and goes to hock it.

He was somebody once. Sometimes his thoughts drift to his past. He went to university, taught in university, but somehow he ended up homeless, jobless and obsessing over how to connive another drink.

Charles Jackson wrote this story in 1946. He had a rich source of material to draw on, his own life. He fought his demons for years, but finally, in 1967, in his room in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, he died of alcohol and drug poisoning.

This is a horrible, excruciating and beautifully written book and I highly recommend it.

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This postcard came from China.  I always like to tell my Chinese postcard pals that my son is living there and learning their language.  Derek tells me he is now dreaming in Chinese.

Here is the front so you can see the interesting stamps.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

One of my favorite composers to play.  Here is Robert Schumann's rarely played Gesänge der Frühe, Op.133 performed by the exquisite Mitsuko Uchida.

The Westing GameThe Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read this on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I respect, although I understand that we have different tastes in literature. I like character and plot driven stories, he's more into world building and provocative concepts.

OK, I'm talking about my husband, but that is beside the point. This book was on his shelf and it looked intriguing so I gave it a shot. There were elements I liked and elements I did not like.

Of course to be fair, it was written for a younger audience, won the Newberry in fact, but I have to chalk up her target audience as another criticism. The plot and cast of characters were quite complicated and I know I would have lost interest in the book at that age. In fact, if I wasn't able to speed read, I would not have gotten through it at my present age.

Plot premise:

Sixteen people have been carefully selected to live in Sunset Towers. It turns out that they are all potential heirs to Sam Westing, a business tycoon who disappeared years ago, but lives on an estate near the Towers. Shortly into the story, Sam is found dead in his house. But he seems to know he would die, furthermore he has left instructions for his heirs to follow in order for them to acquire their share of his fortune.

The kicker: Westing claims he was murdered. By one of them! The first person to discover the culprit will win one hundred million dollars. The heirs are paired up and each pair given a set of clues. Each list of clues are incomplete so they need to find out the other pairs' lists to solve the murder mystery.

What I liked:

It was an intriguing mystery. I wanted to know what was going to happen and that kept me going to the end. And I will say without divulging anything that I found the ending satisfactory. It ended the way I like stories to end, with a resolution, like the "Amen" chord at the end of a hymn.

I also liked that, although the characters started out immensely unlikeable and cardboard thin, they actually started showing other dimensions as the story progressed and as I said, I do like where they all ended up.

OK, criticisms:

I felt the characters were a bit stereotyped and a few of them not very believable. In fact, I wish she had less characters and concentrated more on developing them. Some of them had real potential to be very interesting, but they stop short.

Some of the characters were not very believable. The girl nicknamed Turtle is so immature, she runs around kicking everyone in the shins, that for a good third of the book I thought she was around eight years old. It turns out she's thirteen. Sorry, this book was written in 1978. I was thirteen in 1978. I had hit hormonal adolescence big time. Boys were not yucky they were fascinating and while I had my hopeless crushes, I did not express it by kicking the objects of my desire in the shin.

Also, it was very hard to keep track of who everyone was and what the clues led up to. I found myself backtracking and re-reading pages frequently.

All in all, not a bad read, just not a very good one.

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Barcelona by Robert Hughes

I have become addicted to a show on Youtube and I cannot stop binge watching it.  It's called "What's My Line?"  John Charles Daly hosts it and there is a panel of  regular celebrities who were quite famous at the time.

What do I like?  How courteous and civil and blessedly free from any kind of political rant the show was.  Their dress and demeanor were classy and, while the mystery guest was normally someone famous,  the other guests were ordinary people with interesting occupations.  Some of them were quite impressive.  There was a quaint elderly lady who looked just like granny from Bugs Bunny who was a tiger trainer.  Another was a woman who was a foreign correspondent, something new at the time.  

They also had one of the Buckingham Palace guards and the inventor of the hula hoop. There was a Navy man who tested parachutes (by jumping out of planes in them!) and an Army man who was a deep sea diver to recover derelict ships.

My favorites were when the mystery guest was Salvador Dali and another time Frank Lloyd Wright.

As for the panel's personal lives?  I looked them all up.  They stayed married to the same person until death parted them.

Sigh...those were happier some respects.  At least in the media. 

And for your listening pleasure:  Arthur Rubenstein playing Chopin.

Guell Park
In 2013 I visited Barcelona and left there an adoring admirer of Gaudi, the eccentric architect.  His work mesmerizes me.

Photos from my visit in 2013.

BarcelonaBarcelona by Robert Hughes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was reading other interviews on Amazon and it seems the major complaint was that the book should have been more concise and covered less information about the history of Catalonia. One person was irate that there was no mention of the soccer team.

As for me, I did not think it was too long, I liked the extensive trek through history starting with the earliest records, the different kingdoms, rise and fall of kings, queens, aristocracy and such.

By reading Hughes fluid writing, one discovers how the Catalunyans (ibed) or Catalonians view themselves, their fierce pride in their heritage and their language, different from Spanish.

Hughes covers many bases, except, I guess, soccer. We learn of the city's politics, art, language, literature, poetry, and architecture. My hero, Gaudi is honored with the last two chapters, although other architects are also included.

I had seen the Sagrada Familia in art books and it looked like a mud castle someone made on the beach. And then I visited the city and saw it in person. All I can say is that I was mesmerized. There was something spiritually uplifting just by looking at it. For those who don't know (and shame on you if you don't) the Sagrada Familia is Gaudi's masterpiece: a church, it is called a cathedral, although technically it is not a Cathedral because no Bishop presides there, and is still to be finished. The only thing marring this wonder structure are the cranes.

Hughes scoffs at the later architects who have tried to finish Gaudi's work, but I like it, even if there is a noticeable delineation between Gaudi's work and his successors'. There is so much detail and meaningful symbolism.

Hughes scoffs at a lot of things. While I enjoyed the information he provided and felt I learned a lot about Barcelona which increased my appreciation of it, I did not like Hughes' overall tone. He sounded just a little too superior. Turning a clever phrase trumped objective observation.

But, aside from that, readers interested in this remarkable city would do well to read this book.

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For posts on my photo trip through Barcelona you can click on the links below:

Final destination:  Barcelona

Barcelona:  Second Day

Barcelona:  Third Day

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sex Pistols The Inside Story by Fred and Judy Vermorel

Here is Rapsodie Espagnole by one of my favorites, Maurice Ravel, performed by the Montreal Orchestra.

In its atmosphere, the Rapsodie reflects the profound influence of the Spanish musical heritage imparted to Ravel by his Basque mother. As a child, Ravel would listen to his mother sing him folk songs from her country. Later works by Ravel, such as Boléro and the opera L'heure espagnole, also claim similar sources of inspiration. From the blurb on Youtube.

Sex Pistols: The Inside StorySex Pistols: The Inside Story by Fred Vermorel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I am fascinated by movements, especially ones that I have heard about, but never really focused on. So this year, almost forty years after the fact, I am reading up on Punk Rock and the movers and shakers who propelled that movement to international attention.

This book is comprised of a diary of Sophie, the Sex Pistol's secretary, and the interviews that Fred Vermorel and his wife Judy conducted with each member of the band as well as people associated with the band.

Some of it was insightful in that it showed how a group of ill-educated, low class punks could become world famous. You get the right promoter behind you and you can go places and it's not wholly due to personal ability in the realm of musical talent, or financial or business knowledge.

Which is probably why when the Pistols disbanded a couple of years later, they did not have much money to their name.

John Lyden, aka Johnny Rotten was able to move on and create his own band and brand of experimental type of music. The rest seemed to sink into anonymity, except for Sid Vicious whose sensational death along with the death of his girl friend, Nancy, has become legendary, in no small part because of the movie made about them.

It fascinates me why so many people flocked to this genre of music. Did it really speak to them? Or was it promoted in such a way that made it appealing and attractive to young people? I'm still trying to discover how it works.

The interviews themselves are not very interesting in my opinion because the young men did not have a whole lot to say for themselves. We learn what they hate and what they're against, but what they stand for or like is unknown. Being reactionary only survives if there's something already established to react against. As their own type of music became popular, they lost their raison d'etre.

I have a few more books about The Sex Pistols and the Punk Rock movement in general. We'll see what they have to say about it all.

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 One of the postcards I received from St. Petersburg, Russia.