Expat

The unifying theme in this collection of women’s writings of living abroad is missing home. All of them yearned for the return to the US, with its sensible procedures and 24 hour groceries. While this idea was interesting in the first 20 essays, it became tedious toward the end. Yes, you live abroad and miss certain familiar things like Taco Bell or no smoking in restaurants. Blah de blah de blah. This theme was so prevalent that I wonder if the editor of the book asked each author to flesh the “missing home” idea out in each essay. If so, boo. If not, it’s a little strange that every one of these ladies brings it up. Still, useful information on coping with the change to life abroad, with the mysteries of plumbing and smallish cooking devices. There were some great stories in here, but overall they were lost in the swirl of sameness.

Continue reading “Expat”

Where we stand

Hmm. Maybe I was not in the right mood to read this. Because I did not find much of value in this tract on class and race. Luckily, my friend (whose book I was reading) had underlined the good parts, so I could just skim ahead until I found a good section to read. We had exchanged books: I gave her Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich and she gave me Where We Stand. I think she came out ahead even though I hadn’t underlined any of my book.
The one useful section was when bh wrote about how class would come to the forefront for the middle class when housing became more and more unaffordable. Other lessons: make a budget and stick to it. Don’t go crazy on material things. Live simply.

Continue reading “Where we stand”

The widow’s children

Seagull imitations, drunken hotel gatherings, family deception. Paula Fox has mad skillz in the writing department. Clara’s mother, Laura, is in town with her drunken hubby Desmond, on the eve of their cruise’s departure. Clara meets them in their hotel room where they’re joined by Laura’s brother Carlos, and her good friend Peter Rice. Alma, Laura’s mother, has passed away that afternoon, but Laura refuses to tell anyone until later that evening, after freaking out and running through the streets getting soaked. Peter is called up to the unenviable task of letting Carlos and Eugenio know that their mother is dead. Clara is not to be told, but Peter relents and tells Clara about her grandmother’s death. Ends at the funeral, where Peter’s mind floats away gently into the good night. This book could easily be reduced into a three act play.

Continue reading “The widow’s children”

Organizing from the inside out

I need to read these type self-help books every five years to remind me of what is missing from my reading life the other four years. Ack. Absolutely nothing is missing. Here are some of her tips to help you get organized:
Plan
Attack
Keep it up
Ok, and then there’s:
Sort
Purge
Find homes for stuff
Put in containers
Maintain the clean
This book could be boiled down to one powerpoint slide. But then, of course, we’d be missing the interspersed tales of clutter control that her “clients” experienced. Wow, “Charlotte W.” needed some file folders to get her organization system working? (This is incredible stuff.) “Maria M.” ran out of storage space, so she placed some items in off-site storage and promptly forgot about them. (Pass the Valium, please) Avoid this book and all others of its ilk unless you are completely buried under mountains of paper and have no idea about how to trash the things you don’t need.
Advice that I live by: If you haven’t used it in a year, toss it out.

Continue reading “Organizing from the inside out”

Gig

It’s a shame word.com is now defunct, if this collection was anything like their webzine. Fantastically edited interviews with hundreds of people about their jobs: what they liked, what they hated, what made them get up in the morning every day. The huge range of possible careers opened up before my eyes, making me reconsider my current job situation. I’m an organized person into spiritual and mental clarity, therefore I could be a clutter consultant! The enormous variety of people interviewed was staggering.

Continue reading “Gig”

High and Mighty

Keith Bradsher’s expose of the inner workings of Detroit’s Big Three colluding to keep SUVs free from the environmental and mileage requirements of automobiles (federal law put huge loopholes for SUVs to drive through, classifying them as light-trucks, when they weigh upward of 8000 lbs… the loophole originated out of a freakin’ chicken tax on imported chickens!)
WHAT CAN BE DONE:
NHTSA (Nat’l Highway Traffic Safety Admin) should test the stability of new vehicles (lessen rollovers)
NHTSA should receive more funding from Congress to develop crash-compatibility standards (the raised hoods of SUVs plow right through car’s windshields in crashes, and are more likely to inflict death on the other vehicle)
make side air bags standard equipment
Write a letter to your insurer to ask that it use the widest possible adjustments by model for automotive liability insurance.
States should tighten the penalties for killing or crippling people with your auto/SUV.
Change state licensing, restricting 16 year old drivers to daylight driving
Ban steel grille guards within city limits
Regulate the headlight height and tilting of the beams so that any headlights mounted 30 inches high or more are tilted slightly downward
Close the federal tax loopholes which allow people to write off the entire cost of the luxury SUV because it is a light truck
Strenghten emissions standards for light trucks; under Clinton’s EPA, regulations were issued making SUVs weighing 10,000 lbs. to meet same standards as autos in 2009. Auto industry is filing lawsuits to prevent this outcome.
Increase gas prices
Better fuel economy in SUVs
Make the SUVs smaller; people can’t see past them to avoid accidents, they cause traffic congestion because of their large size

Continue reading “High and Mighty”

Roughing It

ON SAN FRANCISCO CLIMATE:
San Francisco, a truly fascinating city to live in, is stately and handsome at a fair distance, but close at hand one notes that the architecture is mostly old-fashioned, many streets are made up of decaying, smoke-grimed, wooden houses, and the barren sand-hills toward the outskirts obtrude themselves too prominently. Even the kindly climate is sometimes pleasanter when read about than personally experienced, for a lovely, cloudless sky wears out its welcome by and by, and then when the longed for rain does come it stays. Even the playful earthquake is better contemplated at a dis —
However there are varying opinions about that.
The climate of San Francisco is mild and singularly equable. The thermometer stands at about seventy degrees the year round. It hardly changes at all. You sleep under one or two light blankets Summer and Winter, and never use a mosquito bar. Nobody ever wears Summer clothing. You wear black broadcloth — if you have it — in August and January, just the same. It is no colder, and no warmer, in the one month than the other. You do not use overcoats and you do not use fans. It is as pleasant a climate as could well be contrived, take it all around, and is doubtless the most unvarying in the whole world. The wind blows there a good deal in the summer months, but then you can go over to Oakland, if you choose — three or four miles away — it does not blow there. It has only snowed twice in San Francisco in nineteen years, and then it only remained on the ground long enough to astonish the children, and set them to wondering what the feathery stuff was.
During eight months of the year, straight along, the skies are bright and cloudless, and never a drop of rain falls. But when the other four months come along, you will need to go and steal an umbrella. Because you will require it. Not just one day, but one hundred and twenty days in hardly varying succession. When you want to go visiting, or attend church, or the theatre, you never look up at the clouds to see whether it is likely to rain or not — you look at the almanac. If it is Winter, it will rain — and if it is Summer, it won’t rain, and you cannot help it. You never need a lightning-rod, because it never thunders and it never lightens. And after you have listened for six or eight weeks, every night, to the dismal monotony of those quiet rains, you will wish in your heart the thunder would leap and crash and roar along those drowsy skies once, and make everything alive — you will wish the prisoned lightnings would cleave the dull firmament asunder and light it with a blinding glare for one little instant. You would give anything to hear the old familiar thunder again and see the lightning strike somebody. And along in the Summer, when you have suffered about four months of lustrous, pitiless sunshine, you are ready to go down on your knees and plead for rain — hail — snow-thunder and lightning — anything to break the monotony — you will take an earthquake, if you cannot do any better. And the chances are that you’ll get it, too.
San Francisco is built on sand hills, but they are prolific sand hills. They yield a generous vegetation. All the rare flowers which people in “the States” rear with such patient care in parlor flower-pots and green-houses, flourish luxuriantly in the open air there all the year round. Calla lilies, all sorts of genaniums, passion flowers, moss roses — I do not know the names of a tenth part of them. I only know that while New Yorkers are burdened with banks and drifts of snow, Californians are burdened with banks and drifts of flowers, if they only keep their hands off and let them grow. And I have heard that they have also that rarest and most curious of all the flowers, the beautiful Espiritu Santo, as the Spaniards call it — or flower of the Holy Spirit — though I thought it grew only in Central America — down on the Isthmus. In its cup is the daintiest little fac-simile of a dove, as pure as snow. The Spaniards have a superstitious reverence for it. The blossom has been conveyed to the States, submerged in ether; and the bulb has been taken thither also, but every attempt to make it bloom after it arrived, has failed.
I have elsewhere spoken of the endless Winter of Mono, California, and but this moment of the eternal Spring of San Francisco. Now if we travel a hundred miles in a straight line, we come to the eternal Summer of Sacramento. One never sees Summer-clothing or mosquitoes in San Francisco — but they can be found in Sacramento. Not always and unvaryingly, but about one hundred and forty-three months out of twelve years, perhaps. Flowers bloom there, always, the reader can easily believe — people suffer and sweat, and swear, morning, noon and night, and wear out their stanchest energies fanning themselves. It gets hot there, but if you go down to Fort Yuma you will find it hotter. Fort Yuma is probably the hottest place on earth. The thermometer stays at one hundred and twenty in the shade there all the time — except when it varies and goes higher. It is a U.S. military post, and its occupants get so used to the terrific heat that they suffer without it. There is a tradition (attributed to John Phenix*) that a very, very wicked soldier died there, once, and of course, went straight to the hottest corner of perdition, — and the next day he telegraphed back for his blankets. There is no doubt about the truth of this statement — there can be no doubt about it. I have seen the place where that soldier used to board. In Sacramento it is fiery Summer always, and you can gather roses, and eat strawberries and ice-cream, and wear white linen clothes, and pant and perspire, at eight or nine o’clock in the morning, and then take the cars, and at noon put on your furs and your skates, and go skimming over frozen Donner Lake, seven thousand feet above the valley, among snow banks fifteen feet deep, and in the shadow of grand mountain peaks that lift their frosty crags ten thousand feet above the level of the sea.
*******
ON MORMONS:
ALL men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the “elect” have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so “slow,” so sleepy; such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle — keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously-engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone, in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason.
The book seems to be merely a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model; followed by a tedious plagiarism of the New Testament. The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James’s translation of the Scriptures; and the result is a mongrel — half modern glibness, and half ancient simplicity and gravity. The latter is awkward and constrained; the former natural, but grotesque by the contrast. Whenever he found his speech growing too modern — which was about every sentence or two — he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as “exceeding sore,” “and it came to pass,” etc., and made things satisfactory again. “And it came to pass” was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.

Continue reading “Roughing It”

The Art of Travel

A refreshing look at travelling, comparing expectations to reality, travel aided by literature and art. The last chapter (most fresh to my mind) dealt in realizing the beauty around your everyday life, insisting that you need not travel far (merely outside your front door) to be entertained by new thoughts and things you’d not noticed out of habit.
De Botton travels to Barbados, Amsterdam, Egypt (via Flaubert’s writings and life), Sinai desert, the English countryside, Madrid, Provence, and his neighborhood block. He interspersed several relevant pictures and paintings between pages of words.
The best travel book I’ve yet read.

Continue reading “The Art of Travel”

Journals

Oh, Courtney. Why do you release your husband’s very private journals to the public for a buck? I unabashedly devoured these unique journals, presented in Kurt’s own handwriting complete with doodles and cartoons. The journal pages were color photocopied into the pages of this book. The first page was a simple plea from Kurt ” Don’t read my diary when I’m gone” “Ok, I’m going to work now, when you wake up this morning, please read my diary. Look through my things, and figure me out.”

Continue reading “Journals”

Maiden Voyage

This is one that the weathered gent in Baja recommended, after brainwashing me into thinking I needed to join the seafaring life.
Tania sailed in a 26′ sailboat around the globe in 2.5 years, with the longest non-stop stretch being the trip across the Atlantic back to New York (48 days). Along the way she makes friends who impart sailing wisdom and advice, which was necessary for Tania, who had never sailed a boat alone. The trip was a challenge from her father, who bought her the boat in lieu of college tuition, and as she set sail at age 18 to cross the globe. The intended goal was to become the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe alone. This record eluded her, as she gave a friend a ride for 80 miles through the South Pacific, discounting the thousands of miles spent alone on the seas. Her constant companions were her cats, and a Swiss chap she met along the way, who sailed along with her to Malta. Tania’s plan was to write articles along the way to help pay for her travels. Judging from the book, not many articles were written, as every time she put pen to paper, she had writers’ block. After many dispiriting emergencies, her father would fly to her aid (in Sri Lanka, and Gibraltar) with new equipment, including new sails, radar, solar panels, electrical equipment.
The writing itself was average; Tania cannot simply say “cloudy skies”, but instead “skies heavy with cloud,” and other such distasteful murmurings. I believe her writing style was influenced by her choice of reading material; she preferred spy stories and romance novels to the weightier classics her mother recommended. The injection of Tania’s life story among the details of the sailing adventure became a bit nauseating. I lost interest in how her parent’s divorce created havoc for her adolescence, and snored through stories of her life as a NYC street punk.
Overall, the story itself floated clear of the burden of Tania’s immature writing. Very entertaining reading for the armchair traveller.

Continue reading “Maiden Voyage”

Roughing It

Discusses the stagecoach trip from Missouri to Nevada; lingers in Mormon country for awhile, attacks the text of the Book of Mormon for being hogwash (ripping off the Old testament but adding in modern elements, such as during the Ark rip-off, they had a compass…). Silver mining in Nevada, and living it up in San Francisco; sailing to Hawaii. Contrary to the misattributed quote that “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” Mark Twain actually noted that the weather in SF is 70 degrees year round. (see the reprints page)

Continue reading “Roughing It”

Top Picks of 2002

1. The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
2. Being Dead by Jim Crace
3. A House for Mr. Biswas by VS Naipaul
4. Desperate Characters by Paula Fox
5. You Can’t Win by Jack Black
6. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
7. Into a Desert Place by Graham MacKintosh
8. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
9. The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
10. The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan
11. The Prime of Miss Jean Brody by Muriel Spark

Continue reading “Top Picks of 2002”

David Mamet’s American Buffalo

Smack dab in the middle of the ‘Loin is the Geary Theater. This gem is an old triple decker theater built in 1910 that seats 250-ish people. Tuesday, after a somewhat disappointing dinner at The Slanted Door, we drew ourselves up into our most cultured posture and headed for the Theatre.
With our $10 2nd balcony tickets in hand, we arrived early and toured the lower level. We walked up to the stage and wondered at the abundance of “atmosphere.” American Buffalo is set in a Chicago junk shop, and this stage was crammed with every imaginable item, from bicycle tires to racks of retro-clothing, from banjoes and drum sets to silver do-dads. The furnishings included a well-worn couch, a card table, and a office desk with swivel chair. The most impressive part was the lighting effect- the windows and door allowed in this “natural” sunlight that had me fooled at 8pm at night.
We climbed up to the 2nd balcony and settled in. The lights dimmed, and the magic of acting overtook us. I haven’t been to many plays with professional actors, but every time I’m amazed by the performance. Ok I admit it, I’ve only seen this play and Art, which are incredible plays in and of themselves. But the acting was impassioned, the set design phenomenal, and the audience appreciative. Every detail was worked out with precision. Whenever the door would open, you could hear snippets of Latino ghetto-blasted music. Every so often the place would shake with the passing of the El. When Don was on the phone, you could hear someone on the other line, or the busy signal, or when the phone was knocked off the hook, the incessant beeping. [Speaking of beeping, a much needed reminder to turn off cell phones and pagers boomed out before the show began.]
Matt swore that Teach sounded just like Joe Mantegna, but I didn’t really see it. Teach’s voice boomed, Bobby squealed, and Don sighed. Perhaps this trio will lift me out of my non-theater life by virtue of their virtuosoness. Ah, shut it.

Continue reading “David Mamet’s American Buffalo”

Books I wanna Read

The wall / Marlen Haushofer
The Lover/Marguerite Duras (french)
Violette Leduc
Basketball Diaries/Jim carroll
A Time to be Born/Dawn Powell
Can you forgive her/Anthony Trollope
personal history/katherine graham
Secret Power by Marie Corelli pub 1921
Greener than you think by Ward Moore, 1947
Working by Studs Terkel
The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved (and the well beloved) by Thomas Hardy
USA by John Dos Passos

Continue reading “Books I wanna Read”