Saturday, November 14, 2009

Rescuing Matt

Rescuing Matt (twice in one day)

On Friday night Matt had a party to attend. He wanted to practice dancing in the afternoon, so we reviewed salsa and merengue. I taught him a couple of new steps. Matt and another friend were going to the party together. That boy's father was going to drop them off, and José Miguel said he would pick them up at 1:30 in the morning.

I had a quiet evening at home. I bathed with lavender bubble bath and went to bed early, having had a busy day. At midnight the phone rang. Matt was calling from the party. The party wasn't very good, he said. There weren't many girls. He had only danced once. He and his friend wanted to come back, but José Miguel wasn't answering his cell phone and calls didn't seem to going through to the house phone. Should they take a taxi?

I told them to a wait, and that I'd call José Miguel. I got the answering machine on the house phone. I got voicemail on the cell phone. I tried calling several times. Finally I got up, got dressed, and went out to José Miguel's apartment. At least he is only a five-minute walk away. I rang the doorbell insistently. He finally answered, and I told him that Matt was calling and he needed to deal with it. He did. He went and got Matt and the friend.

On Saturday morning Matt apologized for having woken me up in the middle of the night. It wasn't Matt who owed me an apology.

On Saturday morning I went to the grocery store at the Gran Estación shopping center. I had to go today because I had credit coupons from previous purchases made during the Exito anniversary sale, and these were good until 15 November. I got a very good deal on fish: I bought tilapia, catfish, and surimi. On my way home my cell phone rang. Matt was at José Miguel's. He was back from his tennis class. While he was putting his bike away, the door swung shut behind him, with his keys outside, locking him into the apartment. Where was I, Matt wanted to know, and could I come and unlock him? I diverted my course to head for José Miguel's, and 15 minutes later I was unlocking the door for Matt. That lock has always bothered me. It is a real fire hazard/death trap.

Bogota Life

Bogota lost out to Toronto to host the 2015 Pan-American Games. Political cartoonist Vladdo wrote: "It beats all that Toronto would be chosen for the 2015 Pan-American games when there's no Democratic Security there."

In 1999, while going to Montreal with the boys, we ended up with the last three seats on the plane from Bogota to Miami, traveling with the Colombian team en route to the Pan-Am games in Winnipeg. It is fun to travel with a national team!

Bicycle beats private car and public transit in Bogota transport competition.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I gave up on reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery for book club. I am so disillusioned with the book that I am even considering blowing off my book club meeting this Tuesday. Even when I haven't liked the book, normally I'll go because I enjoy the company, the conversation, the food and the wine, but I just feel so completely negative about this book that I am having trouble picturing myself at the meeting. The phrase, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all, keeps popping into my head, and I don't want to simply trash the book without acknowledging some redeeming feature. I found it pretentious, pedantic, and utterly unbelievable. Reneé, the smug and superior autodidact concierge, bent on feeding her insatiable mind and spewing her wisdom while hiding beneath a déclassé veneer meant to meet social expectations, is a paragon of inconology (as opposed to iconography). Paloma, the malaise-ridden, worldly, weary 12-year-old (tired of exactly what, we do not know) is her junior counterpart. Their common refrain is: "Let me explain…" because apparently that is their job in this novel: to explain ad nauseam.

There is an adage in theater: You can either show it or say it. Meaning that you can use the characters' traits to guide the development of the story through action and interaction, or you can have talking heads expounding on their beliefs. This book was about a couple of talking heads, and I wished that they would shut up. I guess I'm just more of a practical kind of gal and I feel that fiction should have a plot. Silly me. I can think of two similar books that had similar characters but that used the characters to further the action: Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky and Headlong by Michael Frayn. Both handle their problematic characters with much more aplomb, managing to be intelligent without being overbearing, and giving the reader enough credit that they can allow the story to unfold without over explaining.

Sometimes book club readings resonate at unexpected moments. In last week's episode of Dr. House (many weeks ago if you saw it in North America; we have to wait until it has been subtitled before it is broadcast in Latin America), Gregory House used V.S. Ramachandran's mirror box therapy to cure a man who was suffering from phantom limb pain --just like we had read about in The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Thirteenth Tale The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Putting on Eyres

I was unlucky enough to have read The Thirteenth Tale in my book club. Reading this book made me wonder, what are the elements that inform the reader that a book is meant to be realistic and plausible, or that the reader is meant to suspend disbelief to allow for supernatural elements, and why is Setterfield’s attempt to balance these two approaches not wholly successful?

The style is nouveau gothic, replete with madness, incest, rape, illegitimate births, “ghosts,” arson, murder and, above all, Keeping Secrets, set against the backdrop of the Yorkshire moors, with plenty of nods to the literary inspirations of the genre, such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Woman in White. You can practically hear the creaking doors, whistling wind, and crashing notes on the organ as you read.

I found the story’s resolution to be completely contrived, sentimental, and implausible. At least Vida Winter, did have an interesting story, even if her telling of it was exceedingly coy. Unlike the whiny Margaret who has spent most of her life trying to work herself into a romantic hysteria over the loss of her own twin at birth, which she accidentally discovered when she found the birth and death certificates at age 10. I also have serious doubts about Margaret’s competence as a writer, mainly because of her persistent habit of using prepositions to end sentences with: “Contemporary literature is a world I knew little of” (p. 29). One of the first major mysteries that the book presents is why the famous author Vida Winter would hire the unknown (and grammatically challenged) bookstore clerk Margaret Lea to write her autobiography. It is revealed at the end of the book that Winter had read Lea’s little known biography of the Landier brothers, and figured that she had insider knowledge about siblings. That seems to be an awfully flimsy pretext that we are given to resolve one of the book’s Burning Questions.

The book actually acknowledges its own silliness when Dr. Clifton prescribes Margaret a dose of Sherlock Holmes as a cure for her ailments wrought from romanticism. This Sherlock Holmes reference also serves as the turning point for the book’s resolution, in which Margaret puts her analytical skills to work and resolves Vida Winter’s mystery. And, just to ties things neatly together, we are informed in the final chapter, that Dr. Clifton has romantic intentions toward Margaret. His attraction to her would have to be the great Unresolved Mystery. Frankly Margaret has more in common with the reclusive Aurelius who has spent his life pining for his unknown family, as Margaret has been pining for her long-dead twin sister, whose ghost appears to her in the book’s postscriptum to say goodbye, and to wrap up the story.

Along the way, Margaret, an avid reader, makes an observation about the process of reading a book and being aware of how many pages remain in which the author will present her dénouement. All I can say is, I’m glad it is finished.

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