Sunday, January 20, 2019

Notes from Destination Earth: A New Philosophy of Travel by Nicos Hadjicostis

While preparing for my five-week trip to South America, I've taken some time to review my notes from Nicos Hadjicostis's wonderful book on traveling:

-As Sri Aurobindo says, there is a universal principle at work by which the difficulties one has to solve are proportionate to the things one must learn. The rarer and novel the difficulties, the more precious and long-lasting the gifts they bear. Every difficulty can teach us something new about ourselves and our relationships with other people. Through tangled and complicated situations, we are forced to become more awake and muster the totality of our energies and capabilities channeling them into new fields of action and play. In doing so, we come to touch the world at points we never knew existed. 

-The more the world-traveler explores and knows our planet, the more he comes to feel that he is an integral part of one huge human family. The human qualities and traits he shares with this family are felt to be stronger than all the differences that apparently set him apart from other people. 

-Stunning landscapes exist as such because of their contrast to boring or uninteresting ones. Beautiful cities and villages are judged as being so because they are compared with the ugly cities and non-picturesque villages that outnumber them. 

The mutual dependence of ugliness and beauty, pleasantness and unpleasantness, makes our world what it is. Interdependent origination is actually one of the central tenets of Buddhist philosophy. It is the notion that nothing possesses its own irreducible self-nature, but everything depends on something else for its existence. These inter dependent opposites are the building blocks from which our world is constructed. It is meaningless, if not impossible, to attempt to shy away from the negative pole of reality. That said, most things in the world lie between the spaces defined by the extreme opposites and include qualities of both. One may thus cultivate the ability to see qualities of beauty and harmony in things that seem ugly or imperfect. 

Friday, January 18, 2019

Really Enjoyed The Children Act Movie

Watched a terrific movie last night on Netflix: The Children Act with Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci, and Fionn Whitehead. 

Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge who presides over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude, and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.

At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: Adam, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, is refusing for religious reasons the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents echo his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely expressed faith? In the course of reaching a decision, Fiona visits Adam in the hospital—an encounter that stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.

Emma Thompson delivers, as always, a superb performance which kept the interest going throughout this smart, elegant, and deeply moving film. 

Now I want to read the book by Ian McEwan, who also wrote Atonement, which I loved reading. It’s in the PS library, so I will read it when I return from South America. Looking forward to this read. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

What I’m Currently Reading

I’m currently reading two books: Tolstoy’s Anna Karina, and Will Durant’s The Age of Louis XIVwhich is volume eight in the The Story of Civilization series.

I hope to finish Anna Karinabefore leaving for my South America trip in nine days. I have only 150 pages to go. It’s a multifaceted story with many intricate themes and interesting, complex characters. I’m enjoying it.

Darant’s history of Europe during the reign of Louis the 14thI’ve just started. I don’t expect to get too far before we leave, but I so love reading Durant’s work I couldn’t wait. I hope to read three Story of Civilizationvolumes this year.

It’s a rainy day, which we need. It’s a good day to read and prepare for the trip.

During my South American trip, I hope to complete two books: Logical Family by Armistead Maupin (which I need to read for my book club meeting in March) and Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C. Morais (which I need to read for April book club meeting.)

Monday, January 14, 2019

Book Review: The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 417


This epic presents the arc of English gay history from the 1940s to 2012, particularly the changing attitudes of the British public toward the LGBT community during that time. The story covers three generations of friends who meet at Oxford in 1940, and the people who come into and go out of their lives. These characters have affairs with each other, go to war, marry, divorce, remarry, raise children, all within the backdrop of dealing with bigotry and intimidation.

Although the title is named for David Sparsholt, the protagonist turns out to be David’s son, Johnny Sparsholt, who shows up in part two. Much of the story is Johnny having to deal with living with the shame that his father’s affair with another man became a national news scandal. In fact, Dave Sparsholt is almost always seen through the eyes of other characters rather than being on the page himself.

The core of enjoyment for me was the gorgeous language and detailed writing style the author brings to all his works. Hollinghurst is a master of the written word, and that shows in every paragraph. 

That said, I (and several others in my book club) felt that much of the story was too slow paced, to the point of being boring. There is very little conflict throughout the story, and what there is tends to be very subtle. It was a struggle to finish it.

The Sparsholt Affair is not for the lazy reader. It is a complex story where many blanks are given for the reader to fill in. The author adroitly captures the lives of gay men, from the longing of adolescence to the acceptance of old age. It is a story beautifully told.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

A Quote from Will Durant, a Pulitzer Prize Winning Historian

While reading the introduction to Will Durant’s book, The Greatest Minds and Ideas of all Time, I found the following quote from Will Durant particularly interesting: 

In 1968, shortly after winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature, Will Durant and his wife, Ariel, gave a television interview in their home in Los Angeles, CA. The interviewer, who fancied himself an intellectual, posed to Durant the following question:

If I were to ask you to name the person who has most influenced the 20thcentury, would it be Karl Marx?

Durant paused for a moment and then replied:
Well, if you use the word in its largest sense, we would have to give the greatest share of influence to the technical inventors, like Edison. Doubtless the development of electricity has transformed the world even more than any Marxian propaganda. Then, if you think in terms of ideas, I think the influence of Darwin is still greater than the influence of Marx, but in a different field. The basic phenomenon of our time is not Communism; it’s the decline of religious belief, which has all sort of effects on morals and even on politics because religion has been a tool of politics. But today in Europe it ceases to be a tool, it has very little influence in determining political decisions—whereas 500 years ago, the pope was superior in influence to any civil ruler on earth. 

I find this fascinating on many levels, but mostly when I see how the Church’s influence has declined over the last two hundred years. To think that people were still being burned at the stake for heresy in the eighteenth century, and now the Church has almost no influence on most people’s lives. I hope I live long enough to see the Age of Enlightenment finally bury Christianity and all it’s bastard cousins once and for all.

Monday, January 7, 2019

A Bon Voyage Dinner from/to Ben and Oyvind

Ben and Oyvind visited us for nine days. Normally that’s a bit too long for guests, three times the recommended stay. But it was not a problem having them for so long a time. They are very good at entertaining themselves. And this time I had the good scene to move my desk and computer into my bedroom so I could continue to work. And every time I felt I needed to get away from all the chatter, I made my excuses of needing to work and went to my desk and lost myself in my work.

Their stay was packed with activities: a day at Borego Springs, parties, hiking, dinners at the best restaurants, a day visiting LACMA museum, and walking downtown. We were kept very busy.  

It was a fun stay, with an overabundance of eating and drinking, especially drinking. We had some terrific meals, but none better than the meal Ben cooked on their last night with us. He invited a house full of people and then cooked all day, making his signature dish, Paella.

Friday, January 4, 2019

A Day in The City of Angels

We took Ben and Oyvind into LA for the day, stopping at our favorite Korean Noodle restaurant for lunch, and then spending several hours at LACMA, and then finishing the day with dinner at Mama Lu’s.  It was an exceptional day, full of interesting art at the museum, delightful food, and of course wonderful company. We all shared a ton of laughs and smiles. 

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Welcome 2019

We welcomed in the New Year with a quite few hours at home with Trek, and then had a classy dinner at Melvyn’s Ingleside Inn, which has all the authentic glamour of the old Hollywood crowd days.  We were joined at dinner by our dear friends and traveling companions Ben Wong and Oyvind, who are staying with us for nine days. 

We enjoyed a lovely meal of wilted spinach salad cooked at our table; Steak Diane cooked at our table, Chilean seabass, and cherries jubilee cooked at our table. It was a flaming night to bring in the new year. Thanks to Ben and Oyvind for joining us for such a special meal. 

 Preparing the wilted spinach salad.
 Steak Diane
 A lovely Chilean Sea-bass
Preparing the Cherries Jubilee