Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Traveling: in time, place, culture

It's a cliche that we travel between the covers of a book.  I believe we travel farther and in a more complex sense as we read than when we go to a movie or watch television.  That travel, in time, back to a period I may know a little about, or almost nothing about, and to a place I may have visited but have only a superficial knowledge of is fascinating to me.  But traveling into the mind of a narrator of a story -- and at the same time into the mind of a writer -- is even more fascinating.  I buy books by authors I never heard of from cultures I know little about. 

This time of year my local library is getting rid of their overages of books at 3 for $1.00.  Most are mysteries and I skip over them although I know mysteries are addictive like sniffing glue.  I don't want the quick thrill and the deadened of brain cells. I look for books by foreign authors, read the blurbs and if it's not a "coming of age" book (at 75 I've lost interest in the pains of discovery) I will add it to my "to read" bookcase. If I've got a dud, as I'll know after 20 or 25 pages, I can pass it on via Goodwill.

Last week I bought a small novel (really a novella) by prize winning Christophe Bataille called Annam.  It's about a boat load of soldiers, priests and nuns who set sail to Vietnam in the 1700s  to conquer the territory both by the sword and the holy word. All perished, but the religious people adapted and lived longer.  It was based on fact, set in a country I know of from a very different period. It was told in a beautifully stark way. For less than 24 hours I was in a very different time, place and culture(s) -- two really, the French and the Vietnamese.

I have just finished a fascinating reading of The Garden Where the Brass Band Played by a Dutch novelist of considerable repute in the first half of the 20th century, Simon Vestdijk. (pictured above) This book has waited patiently in my "to read" bookcase for maybe seven or eight years.  I was in the mind of a very precocious boy in a small Dutch town where social status is very important (he was "the judge's son") and at a time when a piano teacher might be highly eccentric, a drunkard and both admired and disdained. I was in a mind I'd never have chosen to be in, in a strict culture that was familiar from British books I've read, and reading musical descriptions above my head but graspable all along with a doomed romance.

So in the course of a week I've traveled well beyond my boundaries and I've loved it.  I don't need to read a lot of novels or stories set in the American culture that I know from every day experience. Only the really fine writers can offer me something new and enlightening.  I'll go back to the library a time or two while they're having their sale and look for other books by foreign authors I've never heard of - or ones I have heard of (I got a book by Umberto Eco called The Prague Cemetery -- I've read other Eco books and know I can expect to be taken exotic places although the title immediate brought to mind an old Jewish cemetery in Prague that I visited.) For me "summer reading" is exotic traveling.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Women Writing and Reading Poetry

Cape Cod is an astonishingly literary place.  I supposed that shouldn't be a surprise but I am surprised. Last week I went to a "story slam" at a restaurant that initiated these once-a-month events last fall. A few men and several women told stories. Some weeks earlier, at the same venue, I attended an open mike poetry evening -- it was a first attempt at that restaurant and was off to a wobbly start. 

Over the last couple of years I've occasionally attended a well established open mike event at a community center which usually has quite a few regulars, men and women of a wide range of ages, and then a guest poet (someone who's actually published a book of poems -- sometimes self-published, some "really" published). 

I went to another venue last night at an arts center that initiated poetry nights earlier this year. It was well attended, genially run by a pesonable young man. Twenty poets read -- well, 18 -- there were to prose pieces (one mine). The astonishing thing was that all but one of the poets (my son-in-law) were women, mostly over 50, but with a few younger women.  They read well, with rhythm, with expression and they covered a wide range of topics. 

These venues are all within a 15 mile radius of where I live. Who knew so many people were at home writing poetry?  Who would guess poetry so alive and well ... and living on Cape Cod? Yes, I knew that the poetry class at the Academy for Lifelong Learning has a cadre of poets -- slightly more women than men, but fairly well balanced.  Those are people who mostly came to writing poetry late in life and do not attend public readings.  Their own readings may be a bit flat, a bit self-depreciating. But the poet-teacher recently shepherded a (real) book of their writings called Silent No More, with many arists' statements mentioning their late-in-life discovery of poetry as a form of self-espression.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing had, I thought-- still think -- it's perfect telling in the Kenneth Brannagh/ Emma Thompson movie over 20 years ago, which I've seen more often than probably any other movie. But Joss Whedon has made a new version in modern dress with a totally charming Amy Acker as Beatrice. The movie was shot in at some large country house in 12 days, with hand held black and white film. Acker was truly wonderful -- the others were too.  I was, for a while, confused about which man was which because it's in modern dress and all those guys in suits and ties  addled me, especially when Benedict shaved off his beard. 

But the cast was well rehearsed, the play is constantly witty and funny. I'm sorry the "ass" of a local sheriff and his cronies were difficult to hear and understand because their scenes are hilarious. Obviously it's the kind of movie that will be shown only in art houses but it's very worth seeing, the audience enjoyed it as much as I did.  I'm still  fondest of the earlier version in color and period dress but this was a great afternoon's entertainment.

Friday, July 19, 2013

View from ahead

I have been reading Dr. Oliver Sacks' books for many years -- 20, or more. He is a thoughtful and wise man.  Recently an article by him was in the New York Times Magazine. He wrote about his father's attitude toward life at age 80.  Dr. Sacks isn't 80 yet, nor am I.  But we are both thinking ahead.  Sacks wrote:
My father, who lived to 94, often said that the 80s had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one’s own life, but others’, too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty.
At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age. I can imagine, feel in my bones, what a century is like, which I could not do when I was 40 or 60. I do not think of old age as an ever grimmer time that one must somehow endure and make the best of, but as a time of leisure and freedom, freed from the factitious urgencies of earlier days, free to explore whatever I wish, and to bind the thoughts and feelings of a lifetime together.
I am looking forward to being 80.
- Oliver Sacks in The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.) – New York Times

A positive attitude toward getting older I wish everyone could feel. I hope I feel that way at 80; I wish I were able to write as well about it sa Sacks did.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Unique B&B

 The Fodor's guide mentioned this B&B outside of Taos -- Dobson House.  From the airport one turns onto a gravel road and goes four miles toward the Rio Grande gorge, passing many apparently expensive houses on the mesa (all served only by gravel roads). The house crowns its own hill, a circlet of glass (nearly 360 degrees of windows) under a protective roof.  It is made of glass bottles, aluminum cans, old tires and lots of cement.  It is "off grid" but has city approved water.  The plan from the beginning apparently was to include two suites on a lower entry level that would provide B&B space (and income) for the Dobsons.

The term "great room" is used in all kinds of homes, but this one has a truly great room, full of books and tables, rugs, cacti in pots and views "forever".  Between the lower guest level and the private (although the great room is open to the guests) is a really grand staircase with a wonderful statue near the bottom.  It is tiled and lined with art.  The suites have very open bathrooms, a sitting area and bedroom and also fine views out broad windows.  There was an Australian sheep dog, a bit tubby and quite placid who has access to the house's roof which he patrols during the day looking for approaching traffic.

We spent three nights there. We decided after our arrival that we would make sure to be busy in and  near Taos all day, through dinner time so as to have to travel that road only one round trip a day.  The area was scrubby mesa.  John Dobson managed to terrify me the during our first conversation by mentioning the rattlesnakes and gopher snakes.  Fortunately the only wild life we saw, besides the early morning balloonists who floated up the gorge, were jack rabbits.
The middle of the night sky was starrier than any I've seen since I trekked in the Himalayas.

I've stayed in a number of unique and memorable places.  This one ranks high among them. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Not on the plan

The picture shows my daughters all but swallowed up by the great Sand Dunes National Park in southern  Colorado.  After the mountains and horseback riding, we didn't want to plunge back into art galleries and pueblos so we took a side trip. As Cape Codders, sand is not new to us but in that part of Colorado water was not evident and the dunes -- some 300 square miles of them -- marched right up the side of the mountains in great undulating waves.  This was a national recreation area without trails, without restrictions people struck out wherever they wanted. A great sand box for kids and grown ups, pristine, sculpted by an ever present breeze that can become a fierce sand laden wind.

I've been in the Sahara amid tall dunes but this was different.  The wind compacted the sand so it was surprisingly firm to walk on, no two steps up, one step back as in the Sahara. They walked much farther than I, Leslie met some people sledding down who let her have a go.  Quite a few young guys were there with  surfboards.  The area was vast, figures became mere pinheads in the distance yet they were visible against the white.

From there we ate at a roadside cafe that seemed to be a family affair. I discovered that the chili on the menu was not Eastern chili con carne that I often have in the winter here. I ordered green chili and found I had a chicken soup, a thickened broth, with small bits of chicken and small bits of green chili (not very spicy).  Interesting.

We went down the road a bit, turned off onto an unpaved road going up into the mountains.  The "girls" hiked up from the parking lot along a creek -- no path, they had to walk carefully in the cold, cold water  tumbling down until they came to a large mouthed cave. Inside they could see a waterfall cascading from above into the creek.  I wished I had gone, but at that point I'd done all the climbing my legs and lungs were willing to undertake.  I napped in the car.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Guest blog -- Eva Hudson -- Win her book!

Title: Win a free ebook from a prize-winning author

Getting older has a lot going for it. But one of the negatives is feeling a little under-represented in the media and downright transparent on the street. Recently, with movies like Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Hope Springs and Quartet, older people are finally getting starring roles on the big screen, but there can still sometimes be a general feeling of insignificance in everyday life.
The Senior Moment
When the transparent thing first happened to me - I seemed to be able to pass through crowds of people without being noticed - after my initial shock, I thought, what a great idea for a story! What if someone used their invisibility as a force not for evil exactly, but for perhaps less than strictly legal activities. I could already see the TV movie on Showtime. Right away I knew it had to be a mystery, with a little romance thrown in for good measure.
The only problem was I'd never written a screenplay for television, film or anything else. But I had written a novel. So my vision for the movie (starring Judi Dench or Brenda Blethyn or Helen Mirren - take your pick!) became a mystery novel destined for Amazon and a Kindle near you.
The novel is called "The Senior Moment" and is currently available on Amazon here:
And thanks to June, who has allowed me this guest post slot on her blog, I can now offer a FREE ebook (for Kindle, Nook or other e-reader) to five lucky readers. All you have to do is email me with the subject line "Free ebook" and I will draw five winners from the hat and email the ebook file to you in the format of your choice.
You can find out about my other books at my website:
About Eva Hudson
Eva Hudson was born and raised in south London and now splits her time between rural Sussex and central London. She's been a local government officer, singer, dot com entrepreneur, portrait artist, project manager, web designer and content editor.
In 2011 she won the inaugural Lucy Cavendish fiction prize for her first novel, The Loyal Servant. The novel was also shortlisted for ITV's People's Novelist Award.
Find out more about Eva at, or get in touch via Twitter: @Eva_Hudson.

Monday, July 8, 2013

On a Horse! Bucket List item checked off

Rachel and I rode to the top of Bull of the Mountain, she on Badger and I on Rio, both bundled in parkas "Big Al" insisted we put on over our own jackets.  The trail was up and up and then down and down to the very top of the mountain beside Wheeler Peak, the highest in New Mexico.  We could see almost forever.  We were at about 12,000 feet and, happily Badger and Rio did all the hard work. They were good horses trained to carry all kinds of riders, even those seniors checking off their bucket lists.

We were accompanied by Robbie, a personable college student, Big Al's summer employee.  Big Al is a bona fide cowboy-- although it is definitely horses (he has 13)  and not cows that he loves.  He wore a black stetson, red leather-tooled boots with spurs (Robbie had awesome fringed chaps), and was not your average cowboy: he had visited 54  countries in the world, rode a mountain bike through Central America as a late teen (and was stopped  5 or 6 times by armed guerillas), has surfed off Nantucket and is doing just what he decided to do when he was 15: work with horses.

The ride was beautiful, early morning, through fragrant pines up to the point in the picture.  I had expected my horseback riding to be in a gentle meadow.  This was much better and far prettier.  Loved

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Blue and Yellow Log Cabin's New Home

Ruth Ballen and I were roommates on a trip to Tibet 17 years ago.  We have kept in touch, I admired her guts when, as a widow, she left LA for tiny Mountainair, New Mexico and became a part of the town, immersed herself in crafts, doll making, painting, and much else.  My daughters and I visited her last week and were gape-mouthed at her craft-filled home with TWO studios, one indoors for collage and other work and the second in a semi-porch are for painting and other crafts. 

Above is just a tiny corner of a  studio with art work and, below, a photo of Ruth with my daughter, Rachel, at the Shaffer Hotel in town with a painted fireplace behind which inspire Ruth to paint her own fireplace bricks - but in a design and colors all her own.  She is nearly 80, truly going strong, very much herself and the quilt I took to give her is perhaps one of the quietest items in her house.  Visiting her was a delight from the moment we opened the door.  I will envy her two studios forever! And continue to think of her as a role model for senior-dom.