Book Notes

The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway and Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

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So, I finished one book and started another. I finished The Snows of Kilimanjaro and started Sweet Tooth.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro is a book of short stories by Ernest Hemingway, some I have read before and some of which were new to me and I was reading for the first time. The last story in the collection was The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, my favorite Hemingway story and quite possibly my favorite short story of all time. The last time I read this story I was in my 20s. I remember when and where I read it and under what circumstances I was my reading it. It made such a large impression on me. So, these many years later, I read it again with great joy and new eyes. It still made a great impression on me and revived many fond memories. This story taught me at an early age that Hemingway lived by code and it was possible to even have a code. This was an early and important teaching in my life and one I have always tried to live by.

I picked up Sweet Tooth and began to read it. Within 10 pages I knew I was going to like it. First of all, it was dedicated to Christopher Hitchens. One of my favorite writers and one to whom I most look up to and strive to write like when I attempt to write nonfiction. It is not easy. He has set a high bar. A few pages in McEwan references some of my other favorites writers and books as well. These are writers of fiction who are also my heroes: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Vladimir Nabokov’s Bend Sinister, and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. All of which I have read. I am betting this book will prove to be a good read!

White Lotus

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The lotus symbolizes the simultaneous nature of cause and effect or the laws of karma because it blossoms and produces seeds at the same time. We can create our own happiness under any circumstances. This is also symbolized by the lotus. The lotus grows and blossoms in a muddy swamp, yet remains utterly free of any defilement.

FUNERAL PROCESSION

Cemetery Blues

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Military funeral of Samuel V. Bell Sr. – 1981

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Bell Family – Samuel V. Bell Jr., Lewis Bell, his two sons Danny and David, and Sister Bert.

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Samuel Bell Jr, (my Father) Lewis Bell and Sister Bert, all gone

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My beautiful family, both gone

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He’ll be a grave man by morning

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A man of infinite jest

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They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

All moments in time are lost like tears in the rain…..

 

 

 

MEME

I have been thinking about this new word, meme, which has lately entered into the lexicon. For some reason, I don’t know quite know why, it seems to annoy me. To further inquire into this cognitive dissonance, which I feel whenever I see the word in print, I decided to do a little research. It turns out a meme is a newly coined word, coined by British scientist Richard Dawkins, that identifies ideas or beliefs that are transmitted from person or group to another. A meme functions as a unit that carries cultural ideas from mind to mind through writing, speech, gestures or rituals. Some believe memes are analogous to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures. Some question whether culture can be captured or reduced to discrete units such as memes. I would fall into this category and hence my sense of dis-ease whenever I hear the word. Another reason I dislike the word, I think, is that I don’t like the concept of herd mentality, groupthink, mob rule, or even, heaven help me, team player. However, a term to help us understand these phenomena can be useful, I suppose. It’s just that we have so many other words, perfectly good words. Do we really need to invent new ones?

Love in the Time of Cholera

Book Review

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“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of unrequited love.”

That is the first sentence of the novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

It tells you all you need to know about what is to follow. For this is a novel of unrequited love and about all the other kinds of love as well. And they are many. There is the central love triangle between Floerntino Ariza, Fermina Ariza, and Dr. Juvenal Urbino. But there are other kinds of love too: old and young, faithful and unfaithful, respectful and shameful, sexual and chaste, and everything in between.

Bitter almonds always remind me of death. That is also what this novel is about. Old age and death. One character takes his own life at age 70 rather than living to become old and feeble. Other characters live into their 70s and 80s and suffer all the ailments of old age lovingly detailed by the author.

Cholera features heavily in the book as the title suggests. This was a time when cholera was endemic to the geographic setting of the novel. It breaks out many times during the course of the book, causing death and motivating characters to move, and creating a constant state of fear. It is also a metaphor for love. One of the main characters falls ill several times throughout the novel and it is said of him, “The symptoms of love are the same as those of cholera.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez spins his magical tale like a spider spins a web, each sentence a silken thread that creates a web of intrigue that ensnares the reader’s imagination and draws them into the fold of the story.

When Florentino Ariza is denied the love of his life, Fermina Daza, when she marries Dr. Juvenal Urbino, he vows to wait for her. He realizes it might be a long wait. He realizes he might have to wait until her husband dies, which he does 60 years later. Meanwhile, Florentino wastes no time getting involved with other women, always in the hopes of finding something that resembles love, but without the problems of love.

When Florentino visits the Widow Nazaret, she proclaims, “I adore you because you made me a whore.”  He taught her that nothing one does in bed is immoral if it perpetuates love. “One comes to the world with a predetermined allotment of lays and whoever does not use them for whatever reason, one’s own or someone’s else’s, willingly or unwillingly, loses them forever.” A tragic loss I might add.

Every character Is drawn with intricate detail both inside and out. From the time Florentino first falls in love with Fermina, when Dr. Juvenal Urbino is struck by the lightning of his love for Fermina, until 60 years later when Florentino has her finally in his grasp after Juvenal falls to his death at age 81 from a tree trying to catch a wayward parrot, each character having lived a life in full. At last Florentino and Fermina are together as they cruise up and down the river Magdalena, under the flag of Cholera, in the last phase of their own lives, “forever.”

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Look Now (1973)

Movie Blurb

Dont look now poster

Don’t Look Now, directed by Nicholas Roeg falls squarely into the supernatural thriller category. It has made a lot of best horror film of all times lists. I saw it when it first came out and was suitably impressed. On my second viewing, most recently, I was not disappointed. I was surprised at how much I forgot, but what I remembered most was the emotional impact and eerie feeling it elicited from me. And, of course, the infamous sex scene between the stars, Donald Sutherland Julie Christie. The movie takes place in Venice, a beautiful city, but this Venice is dark and sinister. The photography and editing is superb, cross cutting from image to image and making transitions and connections that advance the dramatic arc of the story. It won the BAFTA 1974 award for Best Cinematography. Highly Recommended!

Dont Look Now

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The Skin I live In (2011)

Movie Blurb

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Pedro Almodovar is a quirky filmmaker, although I love all his films. Each one is quirky in its own way and never fails to entertain or amaze. I have been putting off seeing The Skin I Live In for years because I didn’t think I’d like the subject matter and I am not particularly a fan of horror films. Boy was I wrong. So glad I finally got around to seeing this fascinating film. Even though it is a horror film of sorts it has its campy moments. Antonio Banderas plays a brilliant plastic surgeon (mad scientist) who is obsessed with the idea of developing a skin that is burn proof and is willing to make any sacrifice in order to fulfill this Frankenstein like desire. The backstory unfolds to reveal that his beautiful wife was burned and horribly disfigured in a car crash and thus is the progenitor of his obsession. There are a lot of twists and turns but why spoil the fun. See for yourself.

 

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The Biltmore Estate

Road Trip to Asheville, North Carolina

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My trip to Asheville, North Carolina would not be complete without a visit to the Biltmore estate. I was a little hesitant at first to fork over $75.00 for the price of admission but once on the grounds and into the house I soon discovered the tour was worth every penny. Buy the ticket, take the ride as Hunter would say.

The first ride was on a bus from the remote parking area to the mansion proper.

George Vanderbilt opened the Biltmore House on Christmas Eve 1895, after six years of construction. He created Biltmore as an escape from everyday life for his family and friends. The 8,000 estate was home to George, his wife Edith, and their daughter Cornelia. In 1924 Cornelia married John Francis Amherst Cecil. They lived and entertained at Biltmore. The Cecils opened Biltmore to the public in 1930 to promote tourism in the area during the depression and to generate income to maintain the property.

Vanderbilt decided to construct Biltmore in 1888. He acquired 125,000 acres of woodland in North Carolina. He hired architect Morris Hunt to design a limestone house to be modeled on the Chateau de Blois of the Loire Valley in France. It is said to be the largest domestic home ever built in the United States encompassing four acres of floor space.

Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, George’s father, made the family fortune in the shipping and railroad business. At one time he had a monopoly on all rail service in and out of New York City. As legend has it, he started his ferry business as a young man with a $100 loan from his mother, worked hard, and became one of the wealthiest men in America during the so-called Gilded Age.

Today, Biltmore remains a family business employing over 2000 employees who continue Biltmore’s mission to preserve what has been described a national treasure.

The house is beautiful and handsomely furnished, as the pictures will attest, but one is slightly turned off by the ostentaciousness of the luxurious surroundings.

One wonders about all the concentration of wealth in the hands of so few while America continues to be run by oligarchs and income disparity strangles the middle class and starves the poor.

George Orwell said it best I think: A fat man eating quails while children are begging for bread is a disgusting sight, but you are less likely to see it when you are within the sound of the guns.”

Hope you enjoy the pictures.

Comments are welcome.

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Front Lawn of the Biltmore Estate

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Exterior Shot

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Winter Garden Room

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Breakfast Room

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Portico

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View From a Broad

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Back Porch

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View From the Terrace

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Library

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Library

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George Vanderbilt’s Bed

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George Vanderbilt’s Bedroom

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Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bed

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Underground Tunnel Below the Manse

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Bowling Alley

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Swimming Pool

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Main Kitchen

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Banquet Hall

 

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Pool Room

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Gun Room

Jimmy Can’t Dance

Jimmy Can’t Dance is a Jazz and Blues club located in beautiful downtown Louisville, Kentucky on 7th street.

My young friend Victoria and I Ubered our way down there to drink with the grown-ups  and listened to the jazz. Nate Lopez and his Eight String were playing for our listening enjoyment and I must say they exceeded our expectations.

Jimmy Cant dance

So when I ordered our drinks I asked the girl back of the bar would it be OK to teach Jimmy to Dance? She said no, I didn’t say Jimmy didn’t know how to dance, I said Jimmy can’t dance. There’s a difference. That got me to thinking, why can’t Jimmy dance? Maybe Jimmy got no legs. Maybe Jimmy dead. Maybe Jimmy just don’t exist. That’s what I said. But one thing’s for sure. Jimmy can’t dance. But he sure plays a mean eight sting guitar!

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Nate Lopez and Nioshi Jackson

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Nate Lopez

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Honey Grace

 

 

Elevator to the Gallows (1958)

Movie Blurb

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Elevator to the Gallows (1958) is Louis Malle’s first feature film. A French Noir and an early entry into the New wave. Excellent entertainment that touches on several societal issues and displaying a gorgeous black and white portrait of Paris from the 1950s. Sizzling performance by Jeanne Moreau and a killer sound track by Miles Davis. There is absolutely nothing not to like here. Highly recommend!

 

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Jeanne Moreau

Maurice Elevator

Maurice Ronet

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Jeanne Moreau

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Jeanne Moreau