Books: The Columbus Affair

October 13, 2014

I finished The Columbus Affair a few weeks ago, but decided to put off writing a blog post until today. I was busy, and anyway – today just seemed appropriate. I know, yesterday was October 12, but today is the official government holiday. And being an employee of a community college, I get those holidays off. So I have time to reflect back on what I learned about Columbus from reading this book.

It’s fiction, but it’s fiction that deals directly with mysteries surrounding Christopher Columbus. So there’s a fair amount of history related in the novel, as well as some segments of historical fiction where the events described elsewhere are actually taking place. While I was listening to the audiobook, I was skeptical about how much of it could really be historic fact as opposed to the creative output of author Steve Berry’s imagination.

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Books: People of the Book

October 11, 2014

I looked at this audiobook on at least two other occasions before finally deciding to check it out from the library. I’m not sure what made me hesitate – perhaps the phrase “intimate emotional intensity” on the back of the case.

There different kinds of intimacy and different kinds of emotional intensity, some much more pleasant to read about than others. Some books get too intimate, and even with those that are a level – and kind – of intimacy that I would want to read about, sometimes I shy away from because I want to enjoy my commute, not find myself drawn into the wrenching emotional upheavals of someone else’s life.

But I enjoy historical fiction, and I enjoy books about books. I liked the idea of a mystery surrounding a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript, and the different places in Europe where the book had traveled during its long history. I decided People of the Book was worth checking out.

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Books: Winter of the World

July 27, 2014

As I had read in book reviews that Winter of the World picks up where Fall of Giants left off, I was surprised and somewhat disappointed to find out that this was not really so. There is a gap of nine years, with the sequel beginning in 1933 with Hitler’s rise to power. Perhaps in terms of world events nine years isn’t so long, but I was expecting continuity in terms of the characters.

Nine years is long enough that the main characters of the first book have receded into the background and it is through the eyes of their children that we see events unfold. The parents are there, but they are no longer very interesting. And there is little explanation for how they got to where they are now. Grigori, in particular, seems much too content with his comfortable position in life as a general in the Red Army. I realize that it would have been dangerous for him to oppose Stalin (he escaped being purged by not being important enough at the time), but one can’t help but wonder what happened to his thirst for a just society.

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A city to suit me?

August 4, 2012

Most of the recent Plinky prompts haven’t interested me enough to answer, but today’s intrigued me: What city matches your personality?

[Note: I decided to answer here on my blog rather than at Plinky. Last time I answered several prompts, they didn’t post here, as they are supposed to – though they did finally show up here just recently. Plus I’ve found it’s much easier to format and edit my posts here that on Plinky’s site.]

I quickly realized that I had absolutely no idea as to the answer. I have visited several cities, but I don’t know a thing about their “personalities.” So I started Googling. I had been at it quite a while, and had come up with an idea what I was going to post here, before it occurred to me that I might have been misinterpreting the prompt.

When I read it, I thought of “matching” in terms of finding an equivalent. A city would match my personality, I thought, if it had similar characteristics. I tried to think of a city that was quiet, intellectual, creative, fairly conservative, and so forth. Only later did it occur to me that a city “matched” my personality by being a place I would feel at home – complementary rather than similar. (Hmm, is there a city that is good for people who tend to take things literally?)

My personality being what it is, the answer might be the same in either case. A city where I will feel at home will have to be relatively quiet, encourage both intellectual and artistic pursuits, and be fairly conservative. Muscatine does all that quite nicely, I think, but it seemed too much of a pat answer to say my ideal city is where I live right now.

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My kind of contest

October 22, 2010

I don’t know if you can tell it from my posts, but I’ve been tired a lot lately. When I try to think what to blog about, little comes to mind because I just can’t seem to come up with the energy or ambition to think a lot of deep thoughts, tackle challenging books, or even continue the online German lessons I was going to write about once I got further along (past the elementary stuff that’s mostly review from when I studied German a long time ago).

My husband thinks I have sleep apnea, and wants me to get a sleep study. (I have an appointment with the doctor on Tuesday.) I’ve had friends who were diagnosed with sleep apnea, and getting a CPAP machine dramatically increased their energy levels as they finally got a good night’s sleep. I’m not looking forward to the prospect of sleeping with a mask over my face (I never thought of myself as claustrophobic until I tried using my husband’s CPAP machine and mask, and couldn’t sleep at all because I was so desperate to rip that thing off my face). But it sure would be nice to have more energy.

In the meantime, though, I’d love to be able to participate in a contest like the one going on in Madrid right now. Concerned that the national tradition of taking a siesta at midday is disappearing, the National Association of Friends of the Siesta is sponsoring a siesta competition. In a busy shopping center, contestants take 20 minute naps on comfy blue sofas.

The intricate rules award points to contestants depending on how long they sleep during the 20-minute competition time, any unusual positions they sleep in, eye-catching pajamas they might be wearing, and yes, a lot of extra points for snoring.

I don’t know whether I could get to sleep quickly enough to win on points, but I’d be happy to get some eye-catching pajamas if it meant catching a quick snooze at lunchtime. I lie on my side to get to sleep, but inevitably wake later lying on my back with my arms crossed over my chest – like a corpse, my husband complains. Would that get me some points, do you think? He says I snore, too – though I doubt it’s a loud as he does sometimes.

I’ve wondered, sometimes, how much life in Spain has changed since I was there in the early 1980’s. I know the economy has become more modernized, which means in general higher productivity, more opportunities to trade with the rest of Europe, and presumably a higher standard of living. (An acquaintance there in 1983 was surprised when I spoke of the difficulty of making ends meet with my $3000 annual stipend as a part-time “intern” teacher the year before. He knew men raising a family on that much money.)

But that modernization also means more time pressure, and in many businesses an end to the two- or three-hour midday break that was the norm when I was there. We students got out of classes at 1 PM for lunch, and didn’t have to be back until 4 PM. When I had lived with a Spanish family in Valencia two years earlier, that meant I could go home for a hearty midday meal. In Madrid, renting a room in an apartment, it meant going to one of many inexpensive restaurants with friends from school.

What I couldn’t do much during the extended lunch break was run errands. Banks were closed. Offices were closed. Many stores were closed. I don’t know how many people actually took a nap then, but few places conducted business as usual during siesta time.

I’m a long way from Madrid now, though, and even if the pace of life is somewhat more relaxed in rural Iowa than back east where I lived until twelve years ago, no one I know is sponsoring a sleep contest nearby. If I hear of one, though, I’ll be glad to sign up.

Thinking about our flag

June 14, 2009

I realized at bedtime last night that today would be Flag Day. Too late, I realized, to go out and buy a flagpole. We have a flag, one I purchased several years ago when we lived in Michigan, but the flagpole I purchased with it stayed behind on the house when we sold it. (It was a two-piece pole and the upper piece didn’t line up quite right with the lower piece, producing an effect of the flag sagging on its pole.) Sometime between now and July 4 I need to find a good flagpole (preferably one that doesn’t require drilling holes in our aluminum siding).

My father always displayed our flag on holidays. It was an old flag, from before the entry of Alaska and Hawaii into the Union. I always felt vaguely uncomfortable about our house flying a flag with only 48 stars, and wondered if that was proper. It finally occurred to me today to look that up, and I found this answer at The Betsy Ross Homepage:

Is it appropriate to fly a flag that has fewer than 50 stars?

Yes. Official United States flags are always considered living, active flags. From the Betsy Ross flag to the present 50-star flag, any flag that at some time was the currently active flag is still considered a living flag to be accorded all due respect.

We children had our own handheld flags (not the tiny ones with about a six-inch pole but a pole well over a foot long and the flag larger than letter-size paper though I don’t remember the size exactly), and we planted them in the ground in the front yard on days such as July 4. Other than that, however, I don’t remember any particular teaching about holding the flag in special respect. It was a symbol, and as such it was not the symbol that mattered so much as what it was a symbol for.

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New stops on my daily web-walk

September 4, 2008

You may – or may not – have noticed the oddly named Wandering Bruce blog I recently added to my blogroll. Earlier this summer I wrote about the plans of one of our pastors to walk across Spain following the Camino de Santiago. Well, he’s there now and doing a lot of walking, and providing some very interesting blog posts – and some beautiful photos – along the way.

I enjoy checking his blog daily – or sometimes more often, as he sometimes posts multiple times a day, to see where he is and what he has seen (and sometimes what he has eaten – makes me miss those delicious Spanish foods like paella and chorizo). And sometimes he tells what God is doing in him as he walks, and I wonder what I can do to experience a little of that without having to fly to Spain and walk the Camino.

Today I just added another new link, to The Daily Flag. I came across the website in trying to answer a visitor’s question (I’m filling in as receptionist the front desk for the week) about why the flag was flying at half mast. I didn’t find an answer, and when I looked out the window the flag was at the top of the pole. So I’m a bit puzzled about the question, but glad that it got me to this website.

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July 27, 2008

One of our pastors, having served the church for thirteen years, has been offered a three-month sabbatical. I surprised to learn, this morning, that he plans to spend the first month walking across Spain, following the millennium-old Camino de Santiago.

Life here is getting way too comfortable these days, he says (despite all the flooding, and the recent storm that knocked down trees all over town). He spoke of our need – and his – to remember that as Christians we are pilgrims here on Earth, and that we need to remember where we are headed and not be weighed down by unnecessary stuff.

The idea of pilgrimage is certainly a familiar one in Baptist churches in my experience – but almost always in a figurative sense. One’s whole time on Earth is called a pilgrimage. The journey from unbelief to faith and then growth in faith is a pilgrimage. Sometimes a trip to the Holy Land is called a pilgrimage – though the only people I’ve known personally to make that trip are Presbyterians. And I’ve certainly never heard of a Baptist talk about making a pilgrimage to a Catholic holy site before.

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April 26, 2008

I grew up knowing almost nothing about the history of Spain. Other than Ferdinand and Isabella sending Columbus (who was Italian) off to find a new sea route to the Indies, Spain was almost never mentioned in history classes. I had heard of the Spanish Inquisition, and the Spanish Armada, but never the Spanish Civil War. I’m not sure I even knew that Pablo Picasso was Spanish.

Studying Spanish and living as a student in Spain, I learned much about Spanish history, not just from my classes but from visiting museums and monuments and travelling to various cities. I never got up to the Basque region, largely because it was perceived as more dangerous. (Shortly before I left for Spain the first time, Basque separatists set off a bomb in a bank in Bilbao. Things haven’t changed much – earlier this month a bomb was exploded in Bilbao outside the office of the Spanish Socialist Party, apparently set by the Basque separatist group ETA.) But I took quite an interest in learning about the region, especially as it was the setting for Picasso’s famous painting Guernica.

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Las Fallas en Valencia

March 19, 2008

Fallas en Valencia

If I were a tourist in Spain this week and wanted to see some local spectacle, I’d have to choose between Fallas in Valencia (culminating today on St. Joseph’s Day) and Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Sevilla. Having seen both in 1984 (when Holy Week was in April and there was no hindrance to seeing both), I would have to choose Las Fallas.

I had spent six months in Valencia in 1981 as an undergraduate, and during my year of graduate studies two years later, I was eager to go back for their world-famous festival. My former landlady graciously let me stay in a temporarily unoccupied apartment (virtually all hotels are booked well in advance), and I had a wonderful time wandering the familiar streets. I admired the giant paper mache sculptures – the “fallas” – in every neighborhood of the city, marveling both at the artistry involved in their construction, and that they would all be burned in the Cremà at the end of the festival. (One of the figures is “pardoned” each year, based on popular vote, and instead of being burned is saved in the Fallas museum.)

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