Saturday, January 30, 2016

What is it about Fire? - NOVA this week (January 30, 2016)

Observations from my weekly wanderings, usually in Northern Virginia (NOVA).

I was watching a movie this week, Gettysburg if you must know. It’s an excellent movie about a horrible day. If you have not seen it, I recommend it, but the film is not precisely my subject.

There is a scene near the end, probably rather unremarkable to most, that just – gets me. I don’t mean puts a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes – there are other scenes that do that.

No, this scene is different and I am not confident I will be able to explain how or why.

Near the end, the battle over, General Longstreet (Tom Berenger), is sitting by a campfire, alone, unmoving, just staring – into the fire. Before long he is joined by General Lee (Martin Sheen), and the moment is over.

I cannot imagine the misery that Longstreet felt. But he sits calmly staring into the fire. He’s almost peaceful. And remember, he’s just witnessed close up and personal one of the bloodiest days in American war history. He just sent several thousand men to their doom.

But I love the campfire scene – I think perhaps because I’ve been there – staring into the fire.

Of course, I’ve never known anything close to the anguish that Longstreet must have felt, but I’ve sat alone at a campfire hypnotized by its slow destruction of the wood, comforted by its warmth, illumined by its light, calmed by its nocturne. There is something cathartic about it.

It causes me to wonder, what is it about fire? I’m pretty sure I won’t answer that to anyone’s satisfaction, but it’s a pleasing mystery to ponder. To have its full effect, it must be a campfire. A fire in the fireplace has its own charms, especially if the wind is howling, and the snow or sleet is tapping on the panes – but this speaks more of comfort and blessing and less of my place in the universe.

In the elements; in the wild; and yet a barrier from the wild this powerful gift the creator gave to man alone. Perhaps the campfire summons the ancestral call, the forgotten memories coded into my being that recall the fires of long ago when man was only learning his dominion.

And now? Now life is hectic, complicated. I am dominated by creation.

Perhaps I need a good fire.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Top Ten Titles (Top Ten Tuesday, January 26, 2016)

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish

January 26: Freebie Week! Pick a topic near and dear to your heart! Something you wished was on our official list!

Oooh Good…cuz ya know Freedom is good. (imagine William Wallace (Mel Gibson) crying FREEDOM!!!! here.)

So my Top Ten:  Top Ten Best TITLES. The book may be good, mediocre, terrible, or unread….but the Title is superb.

Bit of commentary first before the list, which is inspired by most most recent read: The Sheltering Sky. I love this title. The book was quite good as well. We all know you can’t judge a book by its cover, but actually you can sometimes, cuz the cover of the first version of The Lord of The Rings I read, with cover art by Barbara Remington is magnificent (click here to view)…like the story. But I digress. This is about judging a book by its title. The only book that hooked me with just its title, is #1 on this list. The others are all just titles that I think are fabulous. Most I have not read yet, though all are in the "to be read" stack.

10.  Atlas shrugged
9.   Something Wicked this Way Comes
8.   Of Mice and Men
7.   Jude the Obscure
6.   The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
5.   The House of Mirth
4.   A Confederacy of Dunces
3.   A Dance to the Music of Time
2.   The Sheltering Sky
1.  If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (The book is also very good, rather unusual, metafiction I believe. And to top it all off, even the author’s name is exquisite…Italo Calvino.)


Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (66 down 34 to go)

"…the sky here’s very strange. I often have the sensation when I look at it that it’s a solid thing up there, protecting us from what’s behind." ~ Port Moresby from The Sheltering Sky

This is the second time I’ve read The Sheltering Sky and the only work I’ve read by Paul Bowles. It is an existential novel, set in post-colonial, Northern Africa sometime after WWII. It is the third-person narrative of Americans Port and Kit (Catherine) Moresby, their friend Tunner, and their journeys throughout North Africa.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel satisfies category two: A 20th Century Classic, from the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016.

I’ve read Bowles described as a keen observer of other civilizations, and of writing about the gap in understanding between cultures. Those descriptions are well validated by this, his best-known novel. I first read this about 10 years ago. I didn’t like it much at the time. I believe that was probably due to my impatience with existential angst. Kit and Port especially are the embodiment of existential angst…blech. Their friend Tunner is easy going, but he’s a cad…more blech.

Port inherited a small fortune from his father, and leads a life of leisure, mostly traveling the world.

He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveler.

Kit wanted to go to Italy, but capitulated to Port’s idea of Africa.

It was as if always he held the fresh hope that she, too, would be touched in the same way as he by solitude and the proximity to infinite things.

Port should have listened to Kit – but then, this would probably just be a travelogue and not a classic novel.

Tunner – well both seem to regret Tunner’s presence, and imply they were tricked or trapped into inviting him.

From the beginning, you get the impression Port is rather arrogant and cavalier about Africa: the ugly American. He is fairly well prepared in a technical sense, but a bit aloof about – those gaps in understanding of other civilizations.

You also get the impression that Port and Kit’s marriage is not one of perfect bliss, though they seem committed to saving it. Indeed, the trip to Africa was likely an attempt to foster some intimacy. Finally, the reader gets the impression that Tunner may not be the best influence.

All of these impressions prove true. Africa, or perhaps more precisely the Sahara, has its way with the travelers. Its way is harsh and unrelenting.

You can probably tell I didn’t like any of the characters in this novel, but I liked the novel. Bowles does a magnificent job filling the gaps. I’ve done a bit of globetrotting myself, but I’ve never been to Africa. This novel doesn’t exactly make me want to go, but it paints a compelling picture.

Oh and – I LOVE the title. Can’t say why – I just do.


He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveler. The difference is partly one of time, he would explain. Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or month, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another. ~ Port Moresby

He opened his eyes, shut his eyes, saw only the thin sky stretched across to protect him. ~ Port Moresby

Someone once had said to her that the sky hides the night behind it, shelters the person beneath from the horror that lies above. ~ Kit Moresby (but I can guess who “someone” might have been)

Film Rendition: 1990 starring John Malkovich and Debra Winger is a pretty faithful rendition, with some stunning imagery of the Sahara. My only complaint, I didn't picture Port as John Malkovich at all, though he played the part well.


An Exercise in TENSE: NOVA this week (January 23, 2016)

Observations from my weekly wanderings, usually in Northern Virginia (NOVA).

It snowed; it is snowing; it will snow.