Some random thoughts from 2017…

So.  It’s been a few months since I wrote anything here.  I can’t really explain why.  I enjoy travelling.   I enjoy reading.  I enjoy writing about those things.  So why I’ve lost my voice and motivation is something of a mystery to me, though I think it has a lot to do with my general feeling that if way better, smarter, more engaging writing than I’m capable of have had no discernible effect on the awfulness we’re currently seeing in this country, then what’s the point?  But, of course, that IS the point, so I’m back to giving this a try…

Since it’s been so long, I’ve decided to take a somewhat haphazard approach here and share random thoughts from the last months…

…On Books

Because I spent part of July and August in Spain, I ended up with a quite lengthy reading list from what I saw in bookstores there.  If you read Spanish, I can recommend La hija de Cayetana/The Daughter of Cayetana, by Carmen Posadas (Espasa Calpe, 2016).  Loosely telling the story of the black child “adopted”  by the Duchess of Alba of Goya painting fame, this is an engaging journey through the political and cultural world of late 18th century Spain.  Slightly more predictable and formulaic, but still enjoyable, is El regreso del Catón/Return of the Cato , by one of my favorite historical fiction writers, Matilde Asensi.  (Planeta Publishing, 2015).  A sequel to her widely acclaimed (and available in English translation) El último Catón/The Last Cato, I would guess this entertaining novel will eventually make it also into English.  Other books that looked great but frankly didn’t impress me all that much are En tiempos del Papa Sirio/In the Times of the Syrian Pope and Las ventanas del cielo/The Windows of the Sky.  

My English reading hasn’t particularly contributed to a sense of optimism about current events.  Spain In Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, by Adam Hochschild (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) is an outstanding piece of writing that captures both the promise and the despair of that time period in Spain.  If you think things in the United States are just great right now, I would especially challenge you to read about the Spanish Civil War.  Related to this topic, though less well-written, is The Mezuzah in the Madonna’s Foot: Marranos and Other Secret Jews:  A Woman Discovers Her Hidden Identity, by Trudi Alexy (Simon & Schuster, 2006).  The subtitle is slightly misleading, and I think I expected more from this book than I should have.  Still, it is a fascinating collection of stories about hidden Jewish identities through history as well as the surprising way in which Spain, still struggling to come to terms with its Civil War, helped thousands of Jews to escape the Holocaust.  Unrelated directly by topic, but no less discouraging in its rather bleak assessment of the human condition, is the novel I read for Blogging For BooksThe Mortifications, by Derek Palacio (Crown Publishing Group, 2016).  Narrating the story of a family split apart by the Mariel Boat Lift of 1980 only to eventually reunite in the Cuban countryside, I didn’t dislike this volume.  I just also didn’t love it.  It felt forced, and the characters never quite seemed believable to me.  But its point about how fanaticism of any sort ultimately only results in destruction and dehumanization dovetails with the other books I’ve mentioned as well as with concerns I have about current events, and deserves thought and consideration.

On Travel

I’ve taken some fabulous trips since I last posted here!  In July and August I joined a friend in Spain for a course at the University of Santiago de Compostela, then had another friend meet me for a week in the Basque region of southern France and northern Spain.  This was sort of the last corner of Spain I hadn’t experienced, and I loved the food and culture!

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About a month later, my husband and I went back east to Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey in order to indulge his interest in the American Civil and Revolutionary Wars.

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I was only home for two days before I then left again to visit Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, and the Olympic Peninsula with my Mom and sister!

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And then I was only home for about ten days before I embarked on the grand adventure that my oldest daughter and I had dreamed about for years:  a stay in Rome combined with a cruise to Greece, Malta, Sicily, and Naples.

All of this travel provided a welcome respite from the over-thinking to which I am prone, and provided me with precious memories I will always cherish!

…Other Random Thoughts

  • The Eclipse was really cool!
  • Food in Europe just tastes better.
  • Coffee in Europe also tastes better.
  • I really love Rome.  And I think that with time and a concerted effort, I could actually become somewhat conversant in Italian.
  • I’m seriously wondering if I shouldn’t move to Europe.
  • People are capable of incredible cruelty (how many mass shootings were there in the U.S. since I last posted?), but also incredible acts of kindness.  An image that I will never forget:  The guard standing next to the “Do Not Touch Marble”  signs at the Acropolis reaching out and gently helping a blind Spanish woman to…yes…touch the marble so that she, too, could experience this unparalleled wonder of human achievement.

 

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