Kofi Annan: Interventions: A Life in War and Peace

Interventions: A Life in War and Peace - Kofi Annan

Mr. Annan was far and away the most influential and important Secretary General of the United Nations in its more recent history; his memoirs set forth with great passion and understanding how the experience of a lifetime, from growing up in post-WWII Ghana all the way to serving as Under-Secretary for Peacekeeping under Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and his first-hand insight into conflicts like those in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Somalia, Israel / Palestine, Iraq, and Somalia, shaped his conviction about the necessity of an “interventionist” United Nations policy; one that does not stay on the sidelines of genocide and war crimes but takes seriously its mandate to act on behalf of the peoples of the world.  A simply riveting read.

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Kofi Annan’s Nobel Lecture

Oslo, December 10, 2001

 

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies,
Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, in Afghanistan, a girl will be born. Her mother will hold her and feed her, comfort her and care for her – just as any mother would anywhere in the world. In these most basic acts of human nature, humanity knows no divisions. But to be born a girl in today’s Afghanistan is to begin life centuries away from the prosperity that one small part of humanity has achieved. It is to live under conditions that many of us in this hall would consider inhuman.

I speak of a girl in Afghanistan, but I might equally well have mentioned a baby boy or girl in Sierra Leone. No one today is unaware of this divide between the world’s rich and poor. No one today can claim ignorance of the cost that this divide imposes on the poor and dispossessed who are no less deserving of human dignity, fundamental freedoms, security, food and education than any of us. The cost, however, is not borne by them alone. Ultimately, it is borne by all of us – North and South, rich and poor, men and women of all races and religions.

Today’s real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another.

Scientists tell us that the world of nature is so small and interdependent that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon rainforest can generate a violent storm on the other side of the earth. This principle is known as the “Butterfly Effect.” Today, we realize, perhaps more than ever, that the world of human activity also has its own “Butterfly Effect” – for better or for worse.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire. If today, after the horror of 11 September, we see better, and we see further – we will realize that humanity is indivisible. New threats make no distinction between races, nations or regions. A new insecurity has entered every mind, regardless of wealth or status. A deeper awareness of the bonds that bind us all – in pain as in prosperity – has gripped young and old.

In the early beginnings of the 21st century – a century already violently disabused of any hopes that progress towards global peace and prosperity is inevitable — this new reality can no longer be ignored. It must be confronted.

The 20th century was perhaps the deadliest in human history, devastated by innumerable conflicts, untold suffering, and unimaginable crimes. Time after time, a group or a nation inflicted extreme violence on another, often driven by irrational hatred and suspicion, or unbounded arrogance and thirst for power and resources. In response to these cataclysms, the leaders of the world came together at mid-century to unite the nations as never before.

A forum was created – the United Nations – where all nations could join forces to affirm the dignity and worth of every person, and to secure peace and development for all peoples. Here States could unite to strengthen the rule of law, recognize and address the needs of the poor, restrain man’s brutality and greed, conserve the resources and beauty of nature, sustain the equal rights of men and women, and provide for the safety of future generations.

We thus inherit from the 20th century the political, as well as the scientific and technological power, which – if only we have the will to use them – give us the chance to vanquish poverty, ignorance and disease.

In the 21st Century I believe the mission of the United Nations will be defined by a new, more profound, awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race or religion. This will require us to look beyond the framework of States, and beneath the surface of nations or communities. We must focus, as never before, on improving the conditions of the individual men and women who give the state or nation its richness and character. We must begin with the young Afghan girl, recognizing that saving that one life is to save humanity itself.

Over the past five years, I have often recalled that the United Nations’ Charter begins with the words: “We the peoples.” What is not always recognized is that “we the peoples” are made up of individuals whose claims to the most fundamental rights have too often been sacrificed in the supposed interests of the state or the nation.

A genocide begins with the killing of one man – not for what he has done, but because of who he is. A campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ begins with one neighbour turning on another. Poverty begins when even one child is denied his or her fundamental right to education. What begins with the failure to uphold the dignity of one life, all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations.

In this new century, we must start from the understanding that peace belongs not only to states or peoples, but to each and every member of those communities. The sovereignty of States must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights. Peace must be made real and tangible in the daily existence of every individual in need. Peace must be sought, above all, because it is the condition for every member of the human family to live a life of dignity and security.

The rights of the individual are of no less importance to immigrants and minorities in Europe and the Americas than to women in Afghanistan or children in Africa. They are as fundamental to the poor as to the rich; they are as necessary to the security of the developed world as to that of the developing world.

From this vision of the role of the United Nations in the next century flow three key priorities for the future: eradicating poverty, preventing conflict, and promoting democracy. Only in a world that is rid of poverty can all men and women make the most of their abilities. Only where individual rights are respected can differences be channelled politically and resolved peacefully. Only in a democratic environment, based on respect for diversity and dialogue, can individual self-expression and self-government be secured, and freedom of association be upheld.

Throughout my term as Secretary-General, I have sought to place human beings at the centre of everything we do – from conflict prevention to development to human rights. Securing real and lasting improvement in the lives of individual men and women is the measure of all we do at the United Nations.

It is in this spirit that I humbly accept the Centennial Nobel Peace Prize. Forty years ago today, the Prize for 1961 was awarded for the first time to a Secretary-General of the United Nations – posthumously, because Dag Hammarskjöld had already given his life for peace in Central Africa. And on the same day, the Prize for 1960 was awarded for the first time to an African – Albert Luthuli, one of the earliest leaders of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. For me, as a young African beginning his career in the United Nations a few months later, those two men set a standard that I have sought to follow throughout my working life.

This award belongs not just to me. I do not stand here alone. On behalf of all my colleagues in every part of the United Nations, in every corner of the globe, who have devoted their lives – and in many instances risked or given their lives in the cause of peace – I thank the Members of the Nobel Committee for this high honour. My own path to service at the United Nations was made possible by the sacrifice and commitment of my family and many friends from all continents – some of whom have passed away – who taught me and guided me. To them, I offer my most profound gratitude.

In a world filled with weapons of war and all too often words of war, the Nobel Committee has become a vital agent for peace. Sadly, a prize for peace is a rarity in this world. Most nations have monuments or memorials to war, bronze salutations to heroic battles, archways of triumph. But peace has no parade, no pantheon of victory.

What it does have is the Nobel Prize – a statement of hope and courage with unique resonance and authority. Only by understanding and addressing the needs of individuals for peace, for dignity, and for security can we at the United Nations hope to live up to the honour conferred today, and fulfil the vision of our founders. This is the broad mission of peace that United Nations staff members carry out every day in every part of the world.

A few of them, women and men, are with us in this hall today. Among them, for instance, are a Military Observer from Senegal who is helping to provide basic security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; a Civilian Police Adviser from the United States who is helping to improve the rule of law in Kosovo; a UNICEF Child Protection Officer from Ecuador who is helping to secure the rights of Colombia’s most vulnerable citizens; and a World Food Programme Officer from China who is helping to feed the people of North Korea.

Distinguished guests,

The idea that there is one people in possession of the truth, one answer to the world’s ills, or one solution to humanity’s needs, has done untold harm throughout history – especially in the last century. Today, however, even amidst continuing ethnic conflict around the world, there is a growing understanding that human diversity is both the reality that makes dialogue necessary, and the very basis for that dialogue.

We understand, as never before, that each of us is fully worthy of the respect and dignity essential to our common humanity. We recognize that we are the products of many cultures, traditions and memories; that mutual respect allows us to study and learn from other cultures; and that we gain strength by combining the foreign with the familiar.

In every great faith and tradition one can find the values of tolerance and mutual understanding. The Qur’an, for example, tells us that “We created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other.” Confucius urged his followers: “when the good way prevails in the state, speak boldly and act boldly. When the state has lost the way, act boldly and speak softly.” In the Jewish tradition, the injunction to “love thy neighbour as thyself,” is considered to be the very essence of the Torah.

This thought is reflected in the Christian Gospel, which also teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who wish to persecute us. Hindus are taught that “truth is one, the sages give it various names.” And in the Buddhist tradition, individuals are urged to act with compassion in every facet of life.

Each of us has the right to take pride in our particular faith or heritage. But the notion that what is ours is necessarily in conflict with what is theirs is both false and dangerous. It has resulted in endless enmity and conflict, leading men to commit the greatest of crimes in the name of a higher power.

It need not be so. People of different religions and cultures live side by side in almost every part of the world, and most of us have overlapping identities which unite us with very different groups. We can love what we are, without hating what – and who – we are not. We can thrive in our own tradition, even as we learn from others, and come to respect their teachings.

This will not be possible, however, without freedom of religion, of expression, of assembly, and basic equality under the law. Indeed, the lesson of the past century has been that where the dignity of the individual has been trampled or threatened – where citizens have not enjoyed the basic right to choose their government, or the right to change it regularly – conflict has too often followed, with innocent civilians paying the price, in lives cut short and communities destroyed.

The obstacles to democracy have little to do with culture or religion, and much more to do with the desire of those in power to maintain their position at any cost. This is neither a new phenomenon nor one confined to any particular part of the world. People of all cultures value their freedom of choice, and feel the need to have a say in decisions affecting their lives.

The United Nations, whose membership comprises almost all the States in the world, is founded on the principle of the equal worth of every human being. It is the nearest thing we have to a representative institution that can address the interests of all states, and all peoples. Through this universal, indispensable instrument of human progress, States can serve the interests of their citizens by recognizing common interests and pursuing them in unity. No doubt, that is why the Nobel Committee says that it “wishes, in its centenary year, to proclaim that the only negotiable route to global peace and cooperation goes by way of the United Nations”.

I believe the Committee also recognized that this era of global challenges leaves no choice but cooperation at the global level. When States undermine the rule of law and violate the rights of their individual citizens, they become a menace not only to their own people, but also to their neighbours, and indeed the world. What we need today is better governance – legitimate, democratic governance that allows each individual to flourish, and each State to thrive.

Your Majesties,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

You will recall that I began my address with a reference to the girl born in Afghanistan today. Even though her mother will do all in her power to protect and sustain her, there is a one-in-four risk that she will not live to see her fifth birthday. Whether she does is just one test of our common humanity – of our belief in our individual responsibility for our fellow men and women. But it is the only test that matters.

Remember this girl and then our larger aims – to fight poverty, prevent conflict, or cure disease – will not seem distant, or impossible. Indeed, those aims will seem very near, and very achievable – as they should. Because beneath the surface of states and nations, ideas and language, lies the fate of individual human beings in need. Answering their needs will be the mission of the United Nations in the century to come.

Thank you very much.

Source: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2001/annan/lecture/
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2001

 

 

The Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony 2001
Source: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2001/award-video/

Halloween Bingo 2019 PreParty — Question for 08/03 (Day 3): Favorite Ghostly Tales?

     

As I said in my first pre-party post, I’m not much of a horror reader, and the ghost stories I like almost all either feature a ghost who is the author’s messenger for some larger point, or they’re chiefly characters who have had such an impact on another character’s life, or on a given place, that their “ghostly” presence is in effect like a lasting shadow of their living presence.  Or, of course, we’re really just talking fairy tale — or satire / parody.

It goes without saying that this definition includes Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Signalman; as well as the likes of:

* Aladdin from 1001 Nights (the genie is at least a kind of ghost, right?)
* A.S. Byatt: The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye
* Wilkie Collins: Mrs. Zant and the Ghost
* Henry James: The Turn of the Screw
* Naguib Mahfouz: Voices from the Other World: Ancient Egyptian Tales
* Toni Morrison: Beloved
* Terry Pratchett: Wyrd Sisters
* Otfried Preußler: The Little Ghost (a wonderful children’s story about not fearing “the other”)
* Anne Rice: Violin (the last book by her that I read before she turned BBA)
* Theodor Storm: Der Schimmelreiter (The Dykemaster)
* The ghost stories of Edith Wharton (wonderfully atmospheric)

… and of course …

* Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost

 

 

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Renée Ahdieh: The Wrath and the Dawn

DNF @ 146 out of 432 pages

…. and I’m out.

This is insufferable.

Granted, I’m not the target audience to begin with.  But it’s not even the concept of “1001 Nights as a YA love story” that is putting me off the most, even though that does have at least something to do with it.  Shahrazād, in the original version, uses a potent brew of methods to get the king so wrapped up in her — and in her storytelling –, and a key element of that brew is seduction and sex appeal.  Which I’m not seeing here at all, not even on the tamest “clean YA writing” level.  We’re repeatedly told that Shahrazad — Western spelling, but let that be — is “pretty” (or “beautiful”), and apparently the “boy king” she’s gotten herself married to seems to be thinking so as well.  BUT that doesn’t deter him for a second from wanting to kill her straight at the beginning of the first night.  Off which desire she temporarily manages to wean him by just batting her eyelashes and saying “Please grant me this one wish, before you kill me let me tell you a story??”

Which however brings us to the first thing that really sat wrongly with me straight from the start: motivation.  As in, his, for letting her live — past her first morning at that.  We start off in the first night with the Thief of Baghdad, and by the time morning comes creeping in, we’re just at the point where the Magic Lamp has been rubbed for the first time (not by Aladdin, either, in other words, just in case you’d been wondering).  And just when some mysterious smoke begins to rise from the lamp, — zing!!! — Shahrazad offers up a cliffhanger and tells the king she can’t possibly go on and she’ll tell him the rest of the story tomorrow night.  At which … he’s mildly annoyed but in short order agrees to let her live a little more, just like that, so he can listen to the ending of a story that doesn’t even seem to have done more for him than amuse him on some level or other?!  Sorry, but that’s just ridiculous — we’re talking tyrant material here, after all.

Even more importantly, though: I could probably chog along with the book just fine if Ahdieh had taken the original collection’s cue and kept from locating it all too firmly in reality.  The original is a hodge podge of source material from all over the Orient, after all, very likely at least partly based on oral tradition and with none too firm and consistent a grasp on place names and time periods.  And at heart, it’s a collection of fairy tales.  So what more proximate thing than to turn it into a fantasy tale, right?  But what does Ahdieh do instead?  She writes a historical novel … without obviously having spent a single second on the historical and cultural research that such an approach requires.  And there’s only so much in terms of obvious errors and inconsistencies piling up within a very short time span that I am willing to take.

To stick with just a few of the “highlights”:

Ahdieh bases her book in “Khorazan” — let’s assume that by this she means Greater Khorazan, which she may have settled on because the ruler whom Shahrazād marries in the original collection is characterized as a Sasanian king, and Khorazan, in the 7th century, swallowed up the Sasanian Empire.  (Besides, it has the charm of having been a hotbet of Islamic culture with a rather lasting effect on all of the Middle East and Central Asia — at least until the Mongols came calling.)

Now, my first problem with this is that she gives her boy king the official title of “caliph”.  Because NONE of the four caliphates whose territory included all or at least part of Greater Khorazan were ruled by a caliph residing (as this one does) in a city this far east.  During the (earliest) Rashidun Caliphate it was Medina and Kufa (a city some 110 miles from present-day Baghdad); during the two caliphates with the largest territorial extension, the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates, it was successively Damascus, Harran, Kufa (again), Anbar, Baghdad, Raqqa, Samara, and Cairo, and during the (final) Ottoman Caliphate — i.e., the Ottoman Empire — it was several successive Turkish cities; with Constantinople / istanbul being capital for by far the longest time (but the Ottoman Empire no longer extended far enough east to begin with).  The only thing Khorazan has to say for itself in terms of impacting the dynastic history of the caliphates is that the Abbasid Revolution started there (geographically and militarily / strategically speaking, that is).

Tl;dr: There never was a “Caliph of Khorazan” — as Ahdieh, however, gives as her “boy king'”s title.

Again: If she hadn’t written this as a historical novel (or indeed, as any sort of book set in the real world), that wouldn’t be a problem.  Since she insists on giving specific historic and geographical details, however, readers such as me expect her to have done her homework and verified that at least the major elements of her story are consistent with historic fact and reality.  This one isn’t.

Now: Since Ahdieh has Shahrazad start with the story of the Thief of Baghdad, obviously Baghdad has to exist at the time in which her book is set.  Which puts us into the time of the Abbasid Caliphate, as it was the Abbasides who founded Baghdad (and the Ottomans no longer ruled over Khorazan, see above).  And if we look at the extension of the Abbasid Caliphate, we see that although it still extends fairly far to the west in northern Africa, it no longer covers Morocco / the Maghreb, nor any part of Spain.  Why is that important?  Because Ahdieh refers to someone as “a Moor” and, in the same breath, tells us that he is “from Spain”.  Which is consistent insofar as much of Spain remained Islamic after the Abbasids had expelled the Umayyads; in fact it was to the Caliphate of Córdoba that the Umayyads retrenched upon being kicked out of the rest of their territory.  HOWEVER, during that time period no self-respecting Muslim would have referred to a Muslim from Spain as “a Moor”; at least not, simply by way of an introduction or explanation as it is done here.  To begin with, this term (or “Mauri”) merely referred to the Maghreb (= North African) Berbers, not also people from Spain; indeed, people from the Maghreb region in northwestern Africa are still referred to as “Mauri” by 16th century scholar Leo Africanus.  More importantly, however, in the Middle Ages “moor” (“moro” / “mouro” in Spanish and Portuguese) was a derogative term used by the Christians during the Reconquista and the Crusades.  It was a racist slur — nothing short of the “N”-word of the Middle Ages.

Tl;dr:

Words are important.  They are to your readers — and they should be to you as a writer as well.  Obviously, they aren’t.  That is a pity.

And speaking of words (and titles / addresses): A little later, someone is addressed as “effendi“.  That, in turn, is a form of address that was not used as far east as Khorazan at all — it is a classic expression of respect used almost at the other end of the world as far as a resident of Greater Khorazan would have been conderned: in the Eastern Mediterranean of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.  Which just might still make sense as the gentleman in question does not currently reside in Khorazan — the problem is, however: He used to.  In fact, he used to be tutor and confidant to our “boy king”‘s mother practically forever (until he was kicked out by the seat of his pants).  Which makes him just about anything by way of a respectful address from another Khorazani (none other than Shahrazad herself), but certainly not “effendi”.

Tl;dr: See above — words matter.  Do your godd**n research, woman.  Turks would address someone as “effendi” — not Khorazans.

And literally within a few pages of the above, we learn that another young gentleman from Khorazan, in seeking support for a campaign he’s mounting, is riding out to “the Badawi” — i.e., the Bedouins.  Which again would all be fine and dandy, the extent of the Abbasid Caliphate being what it was, if the next thing we’d be hearing about would be a weeks-, if not months-long trip fraught with hardship, mastered with the help of only a single horse  for transport (in fact, way too good a horse to risk its health on such a trip, but let that go).  But no — he has no sooner spoken of seeking out the Badawi than he’s already chatting to one of them next to a well.

At which point the story, quite literally, had hit the bottom of the well for me once and for all.

One more time: If Ahdieh had given me the slightest indication that she doesn’t mean her book to be set in the real world — in its past — I’d have gone along with her.  (Not quite willingly as her writing isn’t exactly stellar, either, but at least I’d have finished the book.)  But since she insists on peppering it with real world historic references, she must expect to be measured by the standards that such references invite.  And measured by those standards, her book falls woefully short on just about every page.  None of which has anything to do with this being a YA book — YA readers have just as much of a right to be offered historically well-researched books as anybody else.  (Incidentally: in this post, I’m deliberately only linking to Wikipedia pages, because that shows just how little effort it would have taken on Ahdieh’s part to at least get a handle on the core basics.)

Side note: Ariana Delawari as a narrator goes straight onto my “never again” list, too.  I’ve tried my hardest not to attribute her shortcomings to the author in addition to Ahdieh’s own blunders, but Delawari’s narration certainly didn’t make up for the writing, either.

So, I’ll pocket my $2 for BL-opoly and move straight along … fortunately, at least today is another roll day for me!

 

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Agatha Christie: Murder on the Nile

“Death on the Nile” Light


Reading a play that you’ve never seen performed is a bit of an awkward experience, because you have to imagine pretty much every interpretative thing that makes a play come alive when acted, from the stage setting to the actors’ vocal inflections, behaviour and the clothes they wear.  In this particular instance, at least I had the visuals of two movie adaptations of the underlying novel to fill in the void (plus my own memories from a trip to Egypt 10 years ago), and Agatha Christie — ever the novelist — also gives incredibly detailed stage directions both for the setting and lighting of the stage and for the actors’ movements (down to directions that would seem to invite quite a bit of ham acting, at least in less gifted actors, in Louise’s blackmail scene).


The Murder on the NIle stage set, as realized in a fall 2012 Agatha Christie Theatre Company / Gaiety Theatre production (above) and in a July 2001 production by the Loft Theatre Company, directed by Vanessa Comer (below)

But absent seeing this play performed, there still seems to be at least one layer of complexity less than in the novel Death on the Nile; and not only as a result of the reduction of characters and the elimination of virtually all subplots, with the sole exception of the second (pseudo-) love triangle involving a young female passenger harassed by an overbearing elderly relative (in the book: Cornelia Robson), a socialist aristocrat who has dropped his title, and a German-born doctor and psychologist who happens to be among the passengers (here as in the book, Dr. Bessner).

Moreover, as Moonlight Reader notes in her review, absent a few bead sellers appearing at the beginning of the play and a minor blackface character appearing throughout (the boat’s steward), this play could be set in England or anywhere else in the world just as easily as in Egypt.  Essentially, this is a cozy / drawing room mystery, whereas in the underlying novel the Egyptian setting is a crucial, indelible element.

I’m also not sure that the elimination of Poirot and the conflation of the roles of the detective and of the murder victim’s guardian in a single character named Canon Pennefather* really works for me (or why the inclusion of that guardian was necessary to the reduced framework of the play to begin with — or why he has to be a Canon, for that matter).  Obviously, Poirot’s lines about not letting evil into your soul (when speaking to Jackie) are perfectly placed as coming from a clergyman.  But we don’t ever see a response from the good Canon that suggests he is shocked, distraught, sad or in any other way personally emotionally touched by his ward’s murder — he instantly accepts the captain’s request to act as investigator (and why that part should be in better hands with him than with the captain himself beats me as well, since it actually would be the captain’s job under the circumstances), and we see the Canon acting in the capacity of detective only pretty much the whole time from that moment onwards.

(All of which becomes even less plausible after he reveals towards the end that it was the news of his ward’s marriage to a young man he suspected of being “a waster” that compelled him to rush to Egypt in the first place — which in turn also made me wonder why, if he quite obviously has been suspecting both persons who eventually turn out the conspirators in his ward’s murder all along — even if he has perhaps been suspecting them independently and not as co-conspirators — he did not do everything in his power to have both them and his ward closely guarded right from the start.)

All of these implausibilities don’t amount to plot holes large enough to sink the entire play, and come on, this is still Agatha Christie.  I also suspect that a good production of the play would be able to re-supply quite a few layers of the depth stripped away in the text of the play vis-à-vis the novel (especially if the actors and director involved had read the novel).  Even so, this is at best Death on the Nile Light.

________________________________

* Again as MR notes, not the same person as the Canon Pennyfather from At Bertram’s Hotel.  Not only do the two gentlemen exhibit entirely different, even diametrically opposed characters (and spell their names slightly differently); there is also no reference in At Bertram’s Hotel suggesting that the Canon Pennyfather from that novel could have any connections with Yorkshire or Shropshire.

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Murder on the Nile at the Long Beach Playhouse (January 2015)

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Nile cruise ships moored next to each other at the pier in Assuan (left)
and at Kom Ombo temple (right)


Abu Simbel: Entrance to the temples of Ramesses II (left) and his queen consort Nefertari (right) (Abu Simbel is — supposedly — the setting of the play’s second and third acts)


On the Nile: Near Assuan (above) and near Luxor (below)
All Egypt photos mine.

 

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16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 14 – Dies Natalis Solis Invicti

Tasks for Dies Natalis Solis Invicti: Find the sunniest spot in your home, that’s warm and comfy and read your book. –OR– Take a picture of your garden, or a local garden/green space in the sun (even if the ground is under snow). If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, take a picture of your local scenic spot, park, or beach, on a sunny day. –OR– The Romans believed that the sun god rode across the sky in a chariot drawn by fiery steeds. Have you ever been horseback riding, or did you otherwise have significant encounters with horses? As a child, which were your favorite books involving horses?

When I was very little, horses slightly intimidated me, but — like everything moderately scary — they also fascinated me enormously.  By the time I was in elementary school, there was a riding stable and school just a few houses from ours in our street, with one of the pastures coming up all the way to the walkway (we weren’t living in Bonn proper but in a village nearby at the time).  One day, as a dare, some friends and I climbed the fence of that pasture and mounted the two horses grazing there — as luck would have it, they were two extremely friendly and patient fjordhests (Norwegian fjord horses) named, as I would later learn, Charlie and Suraba, who bore our antics with all the goodwill that horses of their breed are capable of, which is surprisingly much.

My mother, upon hearing my guilelessly proud recital of the episode, took this as a sign that maybe rather than going on to naively approach animals considerably bigger and stronger than myself, I ought to have some proper instruction in horsewomanship, and this is how I came to be enrolled for my first riding classes — for the very first couple of which, as coincidence would have it, I would find myself (this time with due license) again on the backs of Suraba and Charlie.  On their bare backs, that is: riding instruction in this place started you out without a saddle, so as to improve your sense of balance and build up your leg muscles quicker than might have been the case if you had had stirrups to hold you.

I had tremendous fun, but I’ve never been one for building up proficiency in anything slowly and gradually, so within a few weeks I demanded to be included in one of the several-hour-long jaunts offered by the stables every weekend.  My mom inquired with my riding teacher whether I was ready for this sort of thing (not necessarily hoping to get “no” for an answer, but obviously, to get a genuine assessment).  My teacher thought I was ready and added, “she’ll just have to learn how to canter for short periods, which hasn’t been part of her instruction just yet.”  So, to catch up with the other folks going on the excursion, I was given some extra instruction in cantering.

The problem, as it would turn out, was that during that lesson I had been in a saddle for a change, as a result of which I still had absolutely no clue what a gallopping horse’s movements under you feel like when you do not have a pair of stirrups to give you extra hold … and just how much harder it is to stay on the horse’s back as a result.  Well, you guessed it — come Sunday, it was back to “no saddle” (thank God, on the back my Norwegian friend Charlie).  Which I enjoyed just fine as long as we were just walking and trotting along leisurely — but the excursion’s first gallop was a major wake up moment.  I managed to hold on (and would have been way too pigheaded to give up anyway), but I was apprehensive of the next time nevertheless; and what had to happen of course promptly happened … halfway through the second gallop I was no longer able to hold on, and I fell.  For a seemingly eternal moment, I watched Charlie’s hooves flying over me: horses will instinctively try to avoid stepping on humans (and all smaller creatures) in their way, and ordinarily Charlie would very likely have stopped and / or veered sideways, but the path was narrow and there were other riders directly behind us, so he probably felt pressured forward, and as a result he did the only thing left to him — he jumped right over me.  Thankfully, he managed to avoid hitting my head or anything else truly vital — but one of his hooves left a horseshoe-shaped mark on my right shoulder, and my right collarbone was sprained.  Once my shoulder was righted, of course that horseshoe mark turned out a badge of honor (which I exploited for all it was worth), but I learned the biggest lesson of all horsemanship on that day: Whenever you have fallen, it is vital for you to get right back onto your horse — if you don’t, you’ll never go riding again.  (Of course, for the trip home I was given a saddle, and to everybody else’s chagrin there was to be no more cantering that day.)

I continued to ride all through my school years until my graduation from high school and abandoned it, much to my chagrin, only when assignment and study pressure in university got too big for me to still be able to invest the considerable amount of time that this particular pastime requires, but I immensely hated having to give it up — and if by now my backbone weren’t a mess of herniated discs, I’d still like to go back to riding.

As far as favorites go, while I (still) love horses of all breeds and colors, I’ve always had a particular love of the two breeds most prominent in the riding stables where I started out — Norwegian fjord horses and Haflingers — as well as Mustangs, and, at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, purebred Arabians, particularly if raven black.  There was a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing going on with my favorite horse-related reading and TV ingestion when I was in elementary and middle school (I loved Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, the adventure novels of Karl May, whose heroes Winnetou and Old Shatterhand / Kara Ben Nemsi own peerless black stallions, and the various TV “adaptations” — to use the term loosely — of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, which basically made Beauty an equine version of Lassie), but in any event, for years I used to dream of owning a black stallion myself — preferably, a purebred Arabian.

Unfortunately, virtually all of my horse- and riding-related photos were in one of several albums drowned in the floods of a broken pipe in their place of storage while I was living in the U.S., so literally all I have left is a photo taken by a French penfriend, whose family owned horses and whom I visited shortly before graduating from high school — and a photo taken a few years earlier, during a vacation in Austria, where I made friends with a mare and her filly that we passed on a walking trip (I was unable to walk by any horses without trying to get their attention and pet them at the time):

 

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Chris Bohjalian: The Sandcastle Girls


Not an entirely bad book, but boy, this could have been so much more. Ostensibly, it deals with the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkey in the middle of WWI.  What we really get is — at least chiefly — the love story of an American volunteer nurse trainee who has accompanied her father on a humanitarian mission to Syria and an Armenian refugee who, having concluded that his beloved wife is one of the 10,000s of victims of the death march through the Syrian desert to which the Turks exposed their Armenian women and children captives, falls head over heels in love with the aforementioned Western nurse trainee.

Oh, sure, there are bits about the genocide as well (and Gallipoli, too, for good measure), but for many of these parts the reader isn’t even right there with the characters but learns about them second-hand and in hindsight; and the ending is incredibly soppy — and while it’s obviously intended as a happy ending, a look beneath its shallow surface reveals that some characters’ happiness comes at the greatest of all costs to another … and at least one of those living happily ever after even knows about this, and nevertheless doesn’t do anything about it (and if I hadn’t stopped caring about that person long before I reached the end, that bit alone would have been the absolutely last straw for me.)

The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season — Bonus Entry

Der Weltensammler - Ilija Trojanow  Collector of Worlds, the - Iliya Troyanov

I blacked out my card on Dec. 19 using the “activity” entry for the Kwanzaa square, but since thereafter I did read a book set (partially) in Africa, too, here’s my “bonus entry” post … sorry for reporting in belatedly; blame it on BookLikes posting issues and a surfeit of things going on all at the same time in my life at present. 😦

Not that it still seems to matter greatly to begin with, alas … (sigh).

Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds) is a novelized biography of 19th century polymath and explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who traveled widely in India, the Middle East and Africa, visiting Mecca (disguised as an Arab) and seeking — partially successfully, though he didn’t know it — the source of the Nile (he did make it to Lake Victoria, but failed to confirm that the Nile actually does originate from there).  He is best remembered today for his translation of The 1001 Nights.

Interesting, though quite obviously largely fictitious insights into a fascinating life, and a voyage back through time to the Orient, Africa, and British Empire of the 19th century.

 

Snow Globes: Reads
Bells: Activities

 

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CASABLANCA

You must remember this …

Aaaahhh … Bogey. AFI’s No. 1 film star of the 20th century. Hollywood’s original noir anti-hero, epitome of the handsome, cynical and oh-so lonesome wolf (with “Casablanca”‘s Rick Blaine alone, one of the Top 5 guys on the AFI’s list of greatest 20th century film heroes); looking unbeatably cool in white dinner jacket or trenchcoat and fedora alike, a glass of whiskey in his hand and a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. Endowed with a legendary aura several times larger than his real life stature, and still admired by scores of women wishing they had been born 50+ years earlier, preferably somewhere in California and to parents connected with the movie business, so as to have at least a marginal chance of meeting him.

Triple-Oscar-winning “Casablanca,” directed by Michael Curtiz, was and still is without question Bogart’s greatest career-defining moment, the movie on which his legendary status is grounded more than on any other of his multiple successes. The film’s story is based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” renamed by Warner Brothers in order to tag onto the success of the studio’s 1938 hit “Algiers” (starring Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr). Building on the success of 1941’s “The Maltese Falcon” and further expanding Bogart’s increasingly complex on-screen personality, it added a romantic quality which had heretofore been missing; eventually making this the AFI’s Top 20th century love story (even before the No. 2 “Gone With the Wind”), while second only to “Citizen Kane” on the AFI’s overall list of Top 100 20th century movies; with a unique, inimitable blend of drama, passion, humor, exotic North African atmosphere, patriotism, unforgettable score (courtesy of Herman Hupfeld’s “As Time Goes By,” Max Steiner, and Louis Kaufman’s violin) and an all-star cast, consisting besides Bogart of Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Renault), Dooley Wilson (who, a drummer by trade, had to fake his piano playing as Rick’s friend Sam), Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser), Sydney Greenstreet (Ferrari) and Peter Lorre (Ugarte). And the movie’s countless famous one-liners have long attained legendary status in their own right …

Looking at this movie’s and its stars’ almost mythical fame, it is difficult to imagine that, produced at the height of the studio system era, it was originally just one of the roughly 50 movies released over the course of one year. But mass production didn’t equal low quality; on the contrary, the great care given to all production values, from script-writing to camera work, editing, score and the stars’ presentation in the movies themselves and in their trailers, was at least partly responsible for its lasting success. In fact, the screenplay for “Casablanca” was constantly rewritten even throughout the filming process, to the point that particularly Ingrid Bergman was extremely worried because she was unsure whether at the end she (Ilsa) would leave Casablanca with Henreid’s Victor Laszlo or stay there with Humphrey Bogart (Rick).

Little needs to be said about the movie’s story. After the onset of WWII, Casablanca has become a point of refuge for Jews and other desperate souls from all corners of Europe, fleeing the old world with the hope of building a new life in America. Unofficial center of Casablanca’s society is Rick’s “Café Americain,” where gamblers, refugees, French police, Nazi troops, thieves, swindlers and soldiers of fortune come together on a nightly basis, to make connections, conduct their shady business, or simply forget the uncertainty of their fate for a few precious hours. And presiding over this mixed and colorful society is Rick Blaine, expatriate American without any hope of returning to the United States himself (for reasons never fully explained), officially not interested in politics but only the flourishing of his business, but soft-hearted underneath the hard shell of his cynicism. From Rick’s perspective, everything is going just swell and the way it is meant to be: he is reasonably well-respected, has a good working relationship with Captain Renault, the local representative of the Vichy government (based on mutual respect as much as on the fact that Renault is a guaranteed winner at Rick’s gambling tables and, by way of reciprocation, turns a blind eye to whatever less-than-squeaky-clean transactions Rick may be tolerating in his café, always ready to have his police round up “the usual suspects” instead of the truly guilty party of a crime if that person’s continued freedom promises to be more profitable); and although aware of Rick’s not quite so apolitical past, the Germans are leaving him alone as well, as long as he stays out of politics now. Until … well, until famous underground resistance leader and recent concentration camp-escapee Victor Laszlo and his wife Ilsa walk into Rick’s café, into his place “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world” – and with one blow, administered to the melancholy tunes of “As Time Goes By,” the carefully maintained equilibrium of his little world comes crashing down around him.

Not only to Bogart and Bergman fans all over the world, “Casablanca” is film history’s all-time crowning achievement, a “must” in every movie lover’s collection, and one of the few films that truly deserve the title “classic.” If it is not yet included in your home collection, that is an omission that ought to be remedied sooner rather than later.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Warner Bros. (1942)
  • Director: Michael Curtiz
  • Executive Producer: Jack L. Warner
  • Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein / Philip G. Epstein / Howard Koch / Casey Robinson (uncredited)
  • Based on a play by: Murray Burnett and Joan Alison
  • Music: Max Steiner
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Arthur Edeson
Cast
  • Humphrey Bogart: Rick Blaine
  • Ingrid Bergman: Ilsa Lund
  • Paul Henreid: Victor Laszlo
  • Claude Rains: Captain Louis Renault
  • Conrad Veidt: Major Heinrich Strasser
  • Sydney Greenstreet: Signor Ferrari
  • Peter Lorre: Ugarte
  • S.Z. Sakall: Carl (as S.K. Sakall)
  • Madeleine Lebeau: Yvonne (as Madeleine LeBeau)
  • Dooley Wilson: Sam

 

Major Awards

Academy Awards (1944)
  • Best Picture: Hal B. Wallis
  • Best Director: Michael Curtiz
  • Best Writing, Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch
American Film Institute (AFI)
  • Top 25 Stars (male) – No. 1 (Humphrey Bogart)
  • Top 100 Love Stories – No. 1
  • Top 100 American Films – No. 2
  • Top 100 Movie Songs – No. 2 (“As Time Goes By”)
  • Top 25 Stars (female) – No. 4 (Ingrid Bergman)
  • Top 50 Heroes – No. 4 (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Thrillers – No. 37
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 5th: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”  (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 20th: “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes –28th: “Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.'” (Ilsa Lund)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 32nd: “Round up the usual suspects.” (Captain Louis Renault)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 43rd: “We’ll always have Paris.” (Rick Blaine)
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 67th: “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” (Rick Blaine)

 

Links

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Lorenz Books: Around the World Cookbook

Around the World in 350+ Recipes

“Holidays in far flung places have increased our awareness of different foods, and restaurants on every street corner now offer dishes that no so long ago would have been unfamiliar,” the editors of this volume say in their introduction. And indeed: This is nothing less than a lavishly illustrated and marvelously edited culinary trip around the whole world, with stops in North and Sub-Saharan Africa, China, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, India, the Middle East, Italy, Spain, France, North America, the Caribbean and Mexico.

All recipes are broken down into small, easy to follow steps, demonstrated in numerous photos. Ingredients are listed with quantities given both in the American and the metric measuring system, thus making the recipes easily accessible wherever you live. Numerous cook’s tips add to the cooking experience and ensure its success. Most of the ingredients are easy to come by, although some may require a trip to a specialty food market. You’ll find plenty of now well-known favorites from the regions represented here, as well as rare and new creations you might not have thought of yourself.

All in all, the book includes more than 350 recipes. If you’re interested in one regional cuisine in particular, you may want to get specialized cookbooks from that particular country or region in addition. But as an introduction and a primer, this volume is very hard to beat.

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Highlights
Regional and International Classics
  • Avgolemono/Aarshe Saak (Greece and several Middle Eastern countries)
  • Baklava (Iran)
  • Boreks (Turkey)
  • Boston Baked Beans (U.S.)
  • Chateaubriand with Sauce Béarnaise (France)
  • Chicken and Prawn Jambalaya (Cajun)
  • Chicken Tikka Masala (India)
  • Chilaquiles (Mexico)
  • Chimichangas (Mexico)
  • Chocolate Profiteroles (France)
  • Chorizo in Red Wine (Spain)
  • Coleslaw (U.S.)
  • Couscous (Morocco; several recipes)
  • Crème Caramel (France)
  • Crêpes Suzette (France)
  • Curries (several recipes from Indonesia, Thailand, Burma and India)
  • Deep-Fried Bananas (Indonesia)
  • Falafel (Egypt)
  • Fried Plantains (Caribbean)
  • Frijoles Refritos (Mexico)
  • Hot and Sour Soup (China)
  • Houmus (Middle East; several countries)
  • Kebabs (recipes from several Middle Eastern countries)
  • Khoresh (Iran; several recipes)
  • Lamb Korma (India)
  • Lamb Pelau (Caribbean)
  • Louisiana Seafood Gumbo (Cajun)
  • Marinated Olives (Spain)
  • Marinated Vegetable Antipasto (Italy)
  • Mole Poblano (Mexico)
  • Mulligatawny (India)
  • New England Clam Chowder (U.S.)
  • Onigiri (Japanese rice balls)
  • Onion Soup (France)
  • Oysters Rockefeller (U.S.)
  • Paella (Spain)
  • Pasta all’ Arrabbiata (Italy)
  • Pecan Pie (Cajun)
  • Peking Duck (China)
  • Penne alla Carbonara (Italy)
  • Pineapple Fried Rice (Thailand)
  • Pizza (various recipes – Italy, of course …)
  • Potatoes Dauphinois (France)
  • Potato Tortilla (Spain)
  • Quesadillas (Mexico)
  • Ratatouille (France)
  • Satés (several recipes from Indonesia and Thailand)
  • Stir-Fries (several recipes from China, Indonesia and Thailand)
  • Sweet and Sour dishes (several recipes from China, Indonesia and Thailand)
  • Szechuan Chicken (China)
  • Tabbouleh (Lebanon)
  • Tacos (Mexico)
  • Tagines (recipes from several North African countries)
  • Tandoori Chicken (India)
  • Tarka Dhal (India)
  • Tiramisu (Italy)
  • Tom Ka Gai (Thailand)
  • Tostadas (Mexico)
  • Wonton Soup (China)
  • Zabaglione (Italy)
Some Unique Recipes
  • Artichoke Rice Cakes with Melting Manchego (Spain)
  • Asparagus with Orange Sauce (France)
  • Baked Fish in Banana Leaves (Thailand)
  • Baked Fish with Nuts (Egypt)
  • Chicken and Pistachio Paté (France)
  • Chicken with Tomatoes and Honey (Morocco)
  • Crab with Green Rice (Mexico)
  • Glazed Garlic Prawns (India)
  • Monkfish Parcels (Spain)
  • Nigerian Meat Stew
  • Salmon in Mango and Ginger Sauce (Caribbean)
  • Sesame Seed Prawn Toasts (China)
  • Stuffed Peaches with Amaretto (Italy)
  • Tanzanian Fish Curry
  • Thyme and Lime Chicken (Caribbean)
  • Tomato and Onion Chutney (India)
  • Veal in Nut Sauce (Mexico)

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Boris Zubry: Miles of Experience

Miles of Experience - Boris ZubryDiamonds in the Rough

I often wonder: How is it that there is a lyrical quality to the works of every Russian writer, unmatched by those of any other provenance with the exception of the Irish? Oh, I am aware that Boris Zubry has been living in the U.S. for close on four decades and has been an American citizen for almost as long. But he was born in Russia and quite obviously raised on a lavish supply of that country’s rich literary stock; and also quite obviously he has ingested enough of that fare to feel a desire to find his own place in the same literary tradition, somewhere between the works of Alexander Pushkin, Anton Chekhov and Ilya Ilf/Yevgenyi Petrov’s “Twelve Chairs,” with a dose of Jewish satirist Ephraim Kishon thrown in for good measure.

“Miles of Experience” is Zubry’s second book; a collection of stories and stream-of-conscience-style essays set in the Soviet Union of the author’s youth, in Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and in WWII Poland and Germany. Introducing each entry by a short poem and at his best when writing from a first-person perspective, describing life’s small, simple things – pleasures and disappointments, happiness and horror alike – Zubry takes the reader on a trip back in time and space, to places he has seen and experiences he has made; never shying from speaking his mind: direct, unapologetic, sometimes jarred, and not afraid of controversy. You won’t always find yourself agreeing with him; but if nothing else, you will be incited to formulate your own position.

The book opens with “Ali,” the touching account of an Arab shopkeeper’s young son who, raised in a traditional environment, is suddenly exposed to a group of rich city dwellers: an encounter that his simple upbringing leaves him ill-equipped to deal with.

The second story, “Cannon,” takes the reader to Portland, Oregon, where a friend of the narrator’s acquires a real cannon at an antiques fair and places it into his house’s front yard – with unexpected consequences.

“Crickets” (my personal favorite) is a story about the lost innocence of childhood, about a magical summer vacation’s ingenious children’s game gone horribly wrong, and about lessons learned and never forgotten.

In “Dates,” Zubry returns to Saudi Arabia, for a closer inspection of that country’s traditions and the clash of its contemporary society with the values of the Western world.

The title of “Domestic Violence” speaks for itself as far as subject matter is concerned – and women readers in particular should be prepared for being confronted with a viewpoint which, while based on the author’s personal observations, is as far as can be imagined from a politically correct approach to the issue.

“Jewish Blood” deals with the encounter between a highly-decorated German officer and a Polish soldier on the WWII front lines outside Warsaw – and the discovery of an unexpected link between the two of them.

“Land of Sinbad the Sailor” again takes the reader to present-day Saudi Arabia; and while (particularly in the post-9-11-2001 world and the days of Middle Eastern terrorism) Zubry’s analysis here and, partly, already in “Dates” probably reflects that of many Westerners, I would expect there to be sharp disagreement from an Arab and/or Muslim point of view. Along with “Domestic Violence” and “Sexual Harassment” (see below), this is doubtlessly one of the book’s most controversial pieces. Yet, when juxtaposing it with the first story, “Ali,” and also taking into account Zubry’s praise of Arab traditions like that of hospitality in “Dates,” it may be surmised that his overall view of the Saudi society is more complex than appears to be the case here.

“The Last Pogrom” is the collection’s single longest entry: part novella, part nonfiction account, it addresses anti-Semitism in the officially atheist Soviet Union and its consequences for the individuals concerned, as exemplified by a promising young engineer studying at Leningrad’s prestigious, top secret Institute for Military Mechanics, and his experience during a high Jewish holiday.

“A Room for a Boy” (another favorite of mine) explores a man’s secret loneliness: Although well-liked and respected in his community both on his own merits and those of his clever cat, there is an unfulfilled spot in his life … and he has found a unique way of making up for it.

“Russian Dedication” (rounding up the list of my greatest favorites) takes a hilarious look at the trademark inefficiencies of the socialist economy, Soviet style; seen in a construction project stuck in time and in endless repetitions of the same useless routine.

“Sexual Harassment” tells the story of a woman’s discrimination lawsuit against a midsize Silicon Valley pharmaceutical company, and its effects even after it has been settled. Again, the author expresses views that not all of his readers (especially women and members of minorities) will be comfortable with, and which are unfortunately far from uncommon.

“Wild Strawberries,” finally, is another return to the author’s childhood days, and to a magical vacation gone horribly wrong; although in this case not for the narrator himself but for a much-idolized personal hero who is belatedly caught up in the Soviet society’s web of political intrigue.

The twelve pieces collected in “Miles of Experience” are diamonds in the rough: Sometimes I would have wished for the hands of an insightful editor: not to censor of course, nor do I think Mr. Zubry’s hand could (or should!) be forced – but to remove some of the rocky edges occasionally obscuring the underlying candle, and to bring it out in its full shine. Yet, even without such polish they make for an interesting read; and in a time when literature (and particularly so, essays and short stories) increasingly seem to be about form and language rather than content, it is refreshing to find an author who is not afraid of expressing a straightforward opinion, while at the same time understanding the lyrical beauty of everyday life.