Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Me and You

In dangerous situations, when the heart is exhilarated, people are more susceptible to falling in love. At least that’s what I’ve heard. I think that must be Niccolo Ammaniti’s trick in getting readers to fall in love with his characters. “Me and You” tells the story of Lorenzo, a socially awkward boy who hides in a cellar to cover up a lie that he went skiing with friends for a week. In reality, he doesn’t have any friends, but his mother looked so pleased when Lorenzo announced this plan, he couldn’t own up to his lie.

The character Lorenzo is so genuine. Reading about him is a privilege because you get a chance to know him at an interesting stage of life, before he grows up. Although he’s hiding from the world, his character is completely revealed to readers. He has a wonderful imagination. He envisions himself carrying out secret missions and saving the world when really he’s just trying not to be discovered in his secret hideout.

We never find out if Lorenzo had to fess up to his lie. I assume that he didn’t, that his secret stayed safe between him and another central character. The book is sandwiched between two snippets of Lorenzo as an adult, but we don’t learn much about him as an adult, which is the way it should be. I’m thinking of Don Delillo’s book “Underworld” and how the portrayal of Nick as an adult ruined the novel for me. If the reader is only given a glimpse of a character, it’s like recalling a happy memory, maybe of a time you were in love before the relationship went to hell or a magical time during childhood when you lived in the moment, instead of always thinking about what needed to be done or regretting a bushel of mistakes, as adults often do.

Niccolo Ammaniti has been called a modern day Charles Dickens for his compassionate portrayals of children. This is the second book by him that has blown me away, the first being “I’m Not Scared.” He really is a perfect story teller. I read “Me and You” on a park bench and as I ambled back home, I let a parade of blissful memories cross my mind, just small details of life. I remembered when I was 19, sitting by a lake next to a man who softly massaged my hands, while I talked incessantly about who knows what, trying to act oblivious to him wanting to kiss me. I remembered, as a kid, considering a friend’s comment that the smell of pavement after rain was identical to the smell of eggs in a frying pan. And I remembered the two times in my life that a boyfriend cooked me breakfast. If I were to drag these stories on they would turn bitter and I’m pretty sure readers would lose interest.

The magic of Niccolo Ammaniti’s writing is that he knows when to stop, how to supply his readers with just enough information to leave them satisfied. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I Look Divine

In between satisfying intakes of Christopher Coe’s slim masterpiece, “I Look Divine,” I paused to contemplate the content of the fan letter I would write to him. I also imagined us meeting and talking about literature at a sidewalk cafĂ© in Paris since his author biography stated that he split his time between Paris and New York. It always seemed to be an indication of sophistication and worldliness to state that you split your time between two big cities.

This book is tragic because its main character, Nicholas, is inflicted with too much self-love. This posterboy of vanity loves anything that reflects his own image, such as lacquered tables and mirror frames with shots of himself inside. The story is told by his brother, who is fascinated by his brother’s pretentious vocabulary, calculated expressions and manipulative games. Although Nicholas was declared a genius when he was a child and had outshone him at nearly everything, the narrator seems to view Nicholas tragically because he knows that if Nicholas determines his value in his looks, there is nothing to envy.

When I searched for more information about Christopher Coe, I was mainly hoping he had written more than one book. It hadn’t occurred to me that he might have died, but it turns out that in 1994, this talented writer died of AIDS. At least I have one thing to be glad about. Christopher Coe wrote another book called "Such Times," which I hope to enjoy as much as “I Look Divine.” 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

I absolutely adored this movie. Set in the 1970's, this film tells the story of Alice, a widowed housewife who hits the road with her twelve-year-old son, wanting to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a singer. Her struggle to make ends meet in a male-dominated world is doubled by her debilitating need to always have a man around. 

The script injects just the right amount of humor during tense scenes. Even the theatrical romantic scene at the end has a moment of subtle comic relief delivered by one of Alice's waitress co-workers.

One abusive man after another shatters Alice's false sense of security and ultimately builds her strength. So when Mr. Right, played by Kris Kristofferson, enters her life, her new-found strength and independence come into play as she learns that she can have it all in life: the man and the career. She has also learned how to convey her needs, loud and clear, with respect topping the list.

Martin Scorsese, when taking on the job as director, told the leading lady, Ellen Burstyn, that he knew nothing about women, but he'd like to learn. Burstyn found his modesty refreshing and a stark contrast to the male characters who keep coming into Alice's life.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ich Liebe Nuremberg!

Upon hearing the city's name Nuremberg most people think of the Nuremberg trails, where Nazi war criminals were brought to justice, but I found the city to be a world of its own, full of charm and tranquility. I took the fast train from Munich, where I was staying with a friend. The train ride took less than an hour, and although I only spent one day in Nuremberg and it was raining, I'm so glad I had the good judgement to check out this fascinating city.

I loved the pedestrian-friendly atmosphere. As soon as I got off the train I found the tourist information office, picked up a map, bought a cool umbrella, and I was on my way! I visited several old churches, where I admired the stained glass windows, walked along the city walls and visited the Christmas Market, which is an ordinary farmers market for most of the year. I found the people to be genuinely friendly and the food to be absolutely delicious.

I will try to go back for the holidays, maybe this year, and definitely stay longer than one day.

This is a memorial to the White Rose group at the University of Munich. The brave members of the White Rose were arrested and beheaded by the Nazis in 1943 for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Post Kerfuffle Unruffling

The heat wave is finally over and I'll be able to sleep well tonight. The other night my two hours of damp sleep were muddled with disorienting dreams of packing. I was fleeing from one place to another, my suitcase and duffel bag a garble of clothes and art supplies. I threw my things inside as if frantically trying to patch up a hole in boat. People stood in my way, staring at me vacantly, wanting to chat and not realizing the distress of the situation. One of my friends helped--in a loose definition of the word "help"--but for the most part just sat on my bed with my laptop, scrolling down my Facebook page and commenting on my photos.

I'm staying at my friend's house while she's in Alaska and trying to write by hand ten pages a day. When I'm not writing, I'm filling my time with the laziest activities I can think of, mainly drinking lattes with friends. The last three months of crazy adventures have started to sink in. I've had plenty of time to lie in my friend's hammock and let my thoughts catch up with all that's happened.

I figure Istanbul is one of those amazing cities that should leave me in awe of my surroundings, not of my survival skills. I've seen the hairy underbelly of Istanbul, warts and all, and I should just go back when the time is right, when I can really enjoy myself without any complications.

I was telling my friend Judith that I'm trying to strengthen my intuition, and be a better judge of character. At home, I have a tightly-knit trusted network of friends, but when traveling, it's difficult to tell who's trustworthy and who isn't. I envy people like Judith, who have a built-in security software for their lives. I wish acquiring this knowledge were as simple as pressing a button and waiting for it to install, but life experience seems to be the only route.

Yesterday my friend Jess and I went fishing near Mt. Hood. The fishing was secondary as what really appealed to me was lounging in a boat and talking the afternoon away. We didn't catch anything, but enjoyed the beautiful scenery and each other's company. I told her I was recovering from shock after an ex messaged me telling me had gotten married on the spur of a whim. Two years ago I thought I'd be the woman to walk down that aisle toward him, or, as I'd call it now, that passage of imminent doom. Jess and I agreed that it was better his mystery wife than me.

It's time to chill out to relaxing music and get my other writing done, not that I'm living by a schedule or anything. Until next time.