Monday, September 29, 2008
The latest Spike Lee movie is about a unit of Buffalo Soldiers during WWII in Italy, trapped behind enemy lines.
After their white commanding officer botches up the orders and most of the unit dies from both German and American ammunition, only 4 members manage to cross a river and run into a village.
Before they get to the village, one of the privates finds a little boy who talks to thin air. The boy calls the private, the Chocolate Giant. The Giant found an ancient part of a bridge in another battle and is always rubbing it for good luck. When they reach the village, they are surprised that white people treat them so nicely! Not like their experiences back in Harlem or the Deep South.
The plot gets more complicated. One of the Italian Resistance fighters is being sought by the Nazis. A German, who witnessed a needless massacre and told the little boy to run, is also being sought by the German army. One Italian has too much of a cozy relationship with the German Army. One of the Buffalo soldiers and one of the ladies in the village are attracted to each other.
The languages also fly; the movies jumps from Southern Black and Harlem English and white Southern English, Italian-accented English, mid-Western American English, German, Italian, and Puerto-Rican Spanish. You have to keep your eyes on the screen so as not to lose the plot. And, if you are not from the South, you will have concentrate harder to understand the Southern English.
I was moved by the story. First of all, I don't understand segregation and can't believe the inhumane way that the Black people were treated, even though I did catch the tail end of it (in my kindergarten class, there were NO black children).
I was also disappointed in my fellow New Orleanians. The one-screen theater had about 35 people for the first feature; when it was over, there were only TEN people.
I hope that they left because they thought that the story was about a Catholic topic, not because the movie was about brave American soldiers, who happen to be of another race.
I must mention that a friend had some on-camera time: Karel Sloane-Boekbinder!
Although on IMBD, she has another name, she had a great part as the wife of a racist store owner. She really showed her fear and disgust of what her husband was saying. Great job!
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
- An Interrupted Life: The Letters and Diary of Etty Hillesum 1941-43 - Etty Hillesum
- The Fifth Child - Doris Lessing
- All Quiet of the Orient Express - Magnus Mills
- Peony in Love - Lisa See
- A Life of One's Own - A Guide to Better Living Through the Work
and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf - Ilana Simons
The book elections will take start in mid-November and end in mid-December. The final list should be published after Christmas.
If you have any international books to recommend for 2009, let me know. I will probably read a lot during my quiet Christmas.
Monday, September 22, 2008
The One Book, One New Orleans
has selected Tom Piazza's City of Refuge as the book for all the city to read.
Reading groups in various bookstores across the area will be discussing this novel.
I will be participating in a few of the discussions in various parts of the city and the suburbs. I am very interested in hearing what other readers have to say about the novel.
The One Book organization is also organizing lectures. I am very proud to have suggested a teen talk about why he/she felt he/she had to return to St. Bernard Parish to finish high school. I contacted a teacher in that school to find me a student, since my idea was accepted!
I attended one last week, and the conversation was lively. Some people felt the book does express the citywide view of the Katrina and exile and decision to return or move somewhere else. One lady said she has a collection of Katrina non-fiction works that she hasn't been able to finish, but since City of Refuge is a novel, she felt a bit stronger and was able to complete the reading.
One participant felt that the work lets people in the nation know that the Katrina still affects people today, but he didn't like the writing style.
Here are more reviews: New York Times Review and Times-Picayune Book Review.
Friday, September 19, 2008
After having a few days with a little cloud of doom (thinking about hurricanes, worrying about a loved one's health - she's OK now, seeing the devastation from Ike, the monetary meltdown, etc.), it finally lifted and I attended a party to learn about Prospect New Orleans - a biennial of international contemporary art.
I volunteered to be an artist installer and a greeter. Since I also speak Spanish, my language skills should be useful.
I also wrote down that I am computer literate, so one of the volunteer coordinators wants me to run the avatar program for Cao Fei.
I have no idea what I need to do, but I love learning new things, so I will have fun. I've never played these games. Here's a sample of her exhibition in Yokohama.
Cao Fei has teamed up with MAP Office to create the installation The volunteer coordinator told me that Cao Fei took pictures of the 9th Ward and the avatar connects with other gamers around the world. As soon as I know which game it is, I will let you know.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
This book was also a recent book group read and the members seemed to have liked it more than I did.
All of them admired the crisp writings and insights. They also considered the possiblity that the Grandmother allowed all her grandchildren to be abused to pay the cheap rent, because all the adult children are messed up in one way or another.
Many members also thought that the narrator, Veronica, was also abused because she diassociates during intercourse, has the long drives without any real reason, and cares about her children, but not as much as a mother normally does. Her torment and breakdown also confirmed their idea of abuse.
The style of writing, through the memories, is masterfully done. What memories are real and what are invented to protect the soul and mind of Veronica?
The novel ends with no real closure. As in real life.
Monday, September 15, 2008
This week's IF theme is Island.
I was inspired by this sad photo from the Times-Picayune that shows a flooded grocery store in Lafitte, Louisiana from the Hurricane Ike storm surge. I also wanted to incoporate some of the downed trees that I saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav around New Orleans.
So, I built a little paper store surrounded by water to be an island. In my image, the store is lower than the surrounding watercolor grass and surrounded with paper water.
I sewed red and black threads on thick paper to create the roof and glued it to the store. The tree trunk is made from papery strands that are used to wrap a packet and sewn together. For the leaves, I randomly tore some wrapping paper and painted it green.
I played with the paper to create the roots.
Friday, September 12, 2008
The outer bands were causing mini-squalls, so I felt it was dangerous to drive to work with debris from Gustav flying around (no, it hasn't been picked up yet) and street flooding (no, the pumps are not at 100% yet, ever since the Katrina).
So, far I haven't lost electricity, like a friend in another neighborhood, so I can still check on the internet.
It's a bit cooler due to the winds.
I am trying to finish my book group read, Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan for Wednesday. Losing a week for the Gustav evacuation really messed up my reading schedule. I am only on fish 2 but it's interesting.
I am also trying to work on some knitting to calm my nerves. Ike could flood the Houston area, where I have friends and relatives. Plus, I have other friends in the Dallas areas, where there could be flash floods or tornadoes. Bleh.
Right now, a couple of levees are overtopped or broken in Terrebonne Parish, south of New Orleans, that was really hit with Gustav a few days ago. Pobresitos.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
This counts as my third and last entry for "It's the End of the World as We Know It" Challenge. I finished before schedule. Yeah!
Every summer, I reread a few books and I tend to go for the nuclear disaster novels. I used to read these types of works when I was a teen and was not really expected to live to see the year 2000. It still amazes me that it's 2008 and no fallouts have happened yet.
This novel was written in the 1950s when the nuclear threat was on everyone's minds. It takes place in the far future in the Texarkana region of the United States. (I drove through there a few years ago. Get on I30 and see where Texas and Arkansas meet.)
My edition is an old one that is really falling apart. I remember there used to be a map that I would try to fill in every time that I read with the current names of the places. This year, I couldn't find the map; it's time for a new edition.
It seems that Europe got blasted and the people in North America lost contact with them. At first, the monks were bookleggers (book smugglers) or memorizers of the books. Then, they evolved to saving and copying all textbooks and blueprint drawings until a time that people get civilized again and want to learn. Despite all their efforts, literacy is in the single digits, and hunting skills are appreciated more than ever.
This is a very Catholic novel, Vatican I doctrine, with lots of untranslated Latin in the text. It will challenge your brain to figure out what is written, and you will learn a lot of the older rites. There are just a few women in this work; most of the characters are men.
The story starts with Francis of Utah, a novice is who really trying to be a priest. His Lenten silence and fast are interrupted by Benjamin, the last Jewish man on Earth, who claims to have met the founder of Francis' order, Issac Leibowitz, about 600 years earlier.
After Benjamin bothers poor Francis, Francis stumbles into a Fallout Shelter, where he finds a note pre-Deluge artifacts. Even something with Leibowitz' signature!
There are moments of levity; it's not all doom and gloom. When Francis' confessor comes to hear his sins, I was just cracking up: almost eating a lizard and cheese (gluttonous thoughts and deeds), dreaming and daydreaming about an attractive succubbus (corcupiscent thoughts) and laughing at the Blessed Leibowitz' to-do list: pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels - bring home for Emma.
The story continues for a time with Franics and his role in the beatification of the Blessed Leibowitz. It then jumps a few centuries with the arrival of Thon Taddeo, a theoretical physicist. The librarian and Brother Kornhoer are always fighting. The librarian wants the Thon to use only candles to read and move closer to the chained books; Kornhoer wants to use 5 people to operate his machine that lights a single light bulb and to have the books unchained. Thon Taddeo is amazed at the candle power of Kornhoer's machine but is disgusted that his theories have already been discovered a centuries earlier.
In the last section of the novel, the order continues to exist but now there is electricity again and people are still born with genetic defects.
It's not the easiest novel to read because of the Latin, but it's an interesting story. You should enjoy it.
Monday, September 08, 2008
This week's theme is Clutter. And is my mind full of it.
Last week, I evacuated for Hurricane Gustav. New Orleans wasn't really damaged, but areas south and west of the city were really hit. Some people won't be able to return home until October.
And, now Ike is dancing his way to the Gulf of Mexico! So where will I be next week? I have no idea.
And depending on the path, I don't know which route I will take to drive away. Plus, I have to decide what's really important to take, in case I can never come home again.
I did one for Routine, but then in the chaos of packing and driving, I wasn't able to post it on time, so here it is:
Sleeping and dream are nightly routines for me. Doesn't she look peaceful? I need to learn from her. And rest while I can!
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Hurricane Gustav damaged places south and west of New Orleans. The towns are not large, but they are important for the fishing, farming, and oil interests. I feel for them: no electricity, no running water.
Poor Cuba, Haiti, and Dominican Republic are getting pounded again by yet another hurricane, Ike. Keep them in your prayers.
If Ike keeps dancing its way to the Gulf of Mexico, my weekend plans will change. If landfall is for my part of the world, I will run away again. Or perhaps, the relatives who sheltered me for Gustav might have to come here, if it goes toward Texas.
I will attempt to write as many posts as I can, because I have no idea where or what I will be doing in seven days.
This book counts as a Chunkster Challenge book, since my paperback edition has 509. It's my third book out of four.
This is my second time reading Cloud Atlas. I read it last year for my book group; I decided to re-read, because I knew that I had missed a lot during the first reading. Plus, I have read other novels that show me what influenced David Mitchell.
I skipped the middle portion, Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After previously; this time, I took the time to read it, because I really had not much to do during my Hurricane Gustav evacuation.
In book club, several members mentioned how they loved the language and play of words in this section of the book. I found it boring the last time and more interesting this time. I guess since I have developed more patience in my life, I could slough through this part of the novel without it being a chore.
This section takes place in Hawaii, after another post-nuclear fallout. (In Orison of Sonmi-451, the Americas and Europe were already gone; now, it seems that Asia also got poisoned.) Very few people are really literate and are descendants of the white populations of Hawaii.
A trader, that has a more advanced culture, wants to spend a few months with the Valleymen to learn of their ways. Zachary is very suspicious of Meronym; he thinks that the dark-skinned lady wants to take over. Soon, she wins over the entire village, and Zachary keeps his mouth shut.
As the story progresses, in Zachary’s voice, I got used to the language. It reminded me of how most of the characters spoke Gangs of New York, a very weird American English.
During the summer, I like to read alternate universe novels and the Orison of Sonmi-451 was fascinating to me. I can see now see the influence of Fahrenheit 451 in this section. The people who want to read books escape the cities; Sonmi wanted to learn and be more than a disposable clone and she also had to hide and flee, when the leaders decided that she was too dangerous to exist in society.
This section of the novel was very materialistic. Products like cars and movies have what are currently brand names. (Cars were fords, and movies were disneys.) This section is a commentary on the consumer society and how companies are taking over each other and creating monopolies in goods. It also has shades of Soylent Green, when Sonmi finds out what is done with the clones after just being alive for a few years.
I was able to figure out what each product that Sonmi mentions, except for the recording device that the Archivist used to tape her last interview with him. What is an orison? Is it a Verizon phone that can take a video?
I just remembered what was happening in the 1970s that influenced Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery. Two blockbuster movies came out during that time period that dealt with nuclear reactors and corporate greed and deception: Silkwood and the China Syndrome.
Plus, all journalists had the Watergate high, similar to Luisa, wanting to break the next big story. It was the last hurrah for newspapers in North America.
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing reminded me of Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor in that both are set during a voyage and there is at least one person who realizes that there is injustice in the world and tries to bring change. The similarities end there, but the writing in both works does remind me of Dickens.
I will re-read Cloud Atlas next year. It’s so large that I still don’t think that I’ve picked up all the clues that Mitchell has scattered all over the place. But, I might not read it in the order it was written; I might follow one story all the way through.
This book counts as my Fourth and Last Russian Challenge selection. I have finished the minimum requirement, although I might read two more Russian works later in the year.
I had to take a picture of the cover, since this book has been out of print for a while. My copy was published in 1980.
Mr. Sergei was a chemist who was fascinated by photography. He developed his own procedure to produce color photography via a color-separation method. His aim was to take pictures of various parts of the empire, so that school children would have visual images other parts of Mother Russia.
He lived in Russia during the last Tsar’s reign and took pictures during this time, mostly in the springs and summers, except during WWI. He had royal permission to use a private train but thought during the war, it was more important for the Army to use the train. He and his family later escaped to Norway and France when Lenin won control of the government.
The pictures are amazing. I see regular farming communities, wonderfully built rural churches, the countryside, naval shipyards and bridges (Mr. Sergi received special permission to film military outposts).
My favorite buildings were the cottages with thatched roofs. It looked like a British one, except that there is an extra layer of logs over the thatch to keep the roof from flying away during the winters.
The most amazing ones are of the areas east of the Ural Mountains. The different Muslim communities looked like they were plunked into Russia from the Middle East, but with thicker clothes. The rugs and the outer robes were so intricate.
He also photographed a rabbi and his students, learning the Talmud, outside on a sunny day.
These pictures capture a Russia that no longer exists. Probably most of the churches and mosques were either destroyed or used for other purposes during the time of Stalin and other rulers.
When Mr. Sergei and his family left, they took as many of the slides and negatives that he could. His sons later sold the collection to the American Council of Learned Societies and now they are housed in the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
Monday, September 01, 2008
still in USA
I have a few moments to let you know how I am. I appreciate your warm wishes and offers of a temporary house! I will personally respond when things get back to normal.
Instead of going to Hot Springs, AK to escape Hurricane Gustav, my parents wanted to go to relatives' home in SW Houston.
Fearing empty gas (petrol) stations on I10West (since I need about 2 tanks of gas to travel from New Orleans to the Houston suburbs), I decided to go another route.
First north traveling through Louisiana and Mississippi, taking a left on I20, going back to Louisiana and into Texas, and then going south on US 59.
It was an adventure to drive 14 hours and drinking so much Coca Cola and coffee without getting ill.
Until I hear the all-clear to return, I stay in Texas.
I am currently reading a book that I read last year: Cloud Atlas. I will try to start a new book tomorrow.