Sunday, September 27, 2009
This is just a remarkably well-realized book. The book is about a young boy, David, who at 12 suffers the death of his mother to cancer. The novel is set in England in World War II. Although it is really a fairy tale or fable it is ultimately a coming of age/adolescent story and is the classic Odyssey in literature history.
David loves books. He loves reading (which of course is why I love this book...and the character). Following his mother's death, his father remarries. David cannot accept his new mother, Rose, and his new half-brother, George. (For fellow WE-philes reading this I am tempted to contact the author to find out if these names were deliberately used as oblique reference to David, King Edward VIII and the younger to whom he abdicated his throne, King George VI in 1936.)
David begins to suffer spells and is sent to a psychiatrist who is rather hopeless. Eventually David begins to hear all of his beloved books speaking to him. (Wouldn't that be fabulous....to hear nothing but your books talking to you). He also begins to have very strange visitations by odd creatures. One night the young boy goes out late at night to chase one of the visitors and finds himself falling through a rabbit hole so to speak. Only in the case of this book, David falls into a tree trunk and is transported to a other-land.
And so begins David's classic odyssey where he must face and defend himself from monsters, dragons, demons, wolves, witches, etc. Initially, he is befriended by "Woodman" and is rescued from the attack of half wolves/half men, who bedevil the lad throughout the novel. Woodman advises David that the only way that he can return home is to visit the King of this "other-land" (it has no name) who supposedly has a book that is very important, filled with "lost things" which perhaps has an answer for lost-David. David's journey to the king is so similar to Dorothy's journey to Oz to visit the wizard to return to Kansas (Woodman sort of reminded me of the Scarecrow or the Tin Man).
What is absolutely fascinating about the book and David's journey, and this fairy tale, is that along the way he encounters along the way other famous fairy tales of yore. Although slightly different, David encounters a witch who lives in a delicious tasting cottage. The witch lures children into the house and then boils and eats them (our hero David hears about a brother and sister). David encounters another strange character, a huntress, who takes children and splices them with animals (for example, one poor victim was a little girl who was spliced with the bottom half of a deer. The huntress by the way was somewhat evocative, for me, of the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk). All along the way though David must destroy these evil characters in order to continue on his journey to the castle where the king lives (there isn't a yellow brick road).
On his odyssey, David encounters other protagonists who help him face battles and occasionally save his life. One character is the a possibly-"gay" knight who arrives on a white horse. The boy is also abetted at one point by seven dwarfs who are Marxist and live in complete terror of a morbidly obese bitch shrew, Snow White.
Along the way David grows from a boy into a young man.
I won't spoil the story for you. You must read this book. Although it is a "fable" and deals with an adolescent, this is a very dark and adult novel which is quite graphically violent (although not gratuitously) and at times borders on "horror". So this isn't just a childrens book.
I wept frequently throughout the book. There are paragraphs of such astonishing beauty and wisdom that I found myself reading them over and over again. Perhaps my most favorite is at the beginning of the book. As David's mother is dying she shares with him as a gift, her love of reading:
"After school each day, he would sit by her bedside, sometimes talking with her if she was feeling strong enough, but at other times merely watching her sleep, counting ever labored, wheezing breath that emerged, willing her to remain with him. Often he would bring a book with him to read, and if his mother was awake and her head did not hurt too much, she would ask him to read aloud to her. She had books of her own--romances and mysteries and thick, black-garbed novels with tiny letters--but she preferred him to read to her as much older stories: myths and legends and fairy tales, stories of castles and quests and dangerous, talking animals......
Before she became ill, David's mother would often tell him that stories were alive. They weren't alive in the way that people were alive, or even dogs or cats. People were alive whether you chose to notice them or not, while dogs tended to make you notice them if they decided that you weren't paying them enough attention. Cats, meanwhile, were very good at pretending people didn't exist at all when it suited them, but that was another matter entirely.
Stories were different, though: they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath a blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination, and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read, David's mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life."
Is that not just exquisitely beautiful prose? Enjoy this beautiful (it is a very dark beauty though) novel.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Elaine Stritch originated this song on Broadway in Sondheim's musical Company. The song is Ladies Who Lunch. Streisand recorded it later and really did a disservice to the song.......Ladies Who Lunch isn't supposed to be a pretty song. It's beauty is in its anger and its grit. And no one ever sang the song more perfectly realized than Elaine Stritch. She originated the song/role on Broadway. And no one has ever come close to her original interpretation.
Here's a clip of Stritch doing the song in at the turn of the century 99/00 (many years since the she originated the song on Broadway).
I urge you to watch the following youtube excerpt which excerpts a documentary about the original cast recording of Sondheim's Company. This documentary film was done in the last few years and includes Stritch's narration of her own personal crisis during the making of the original cast recording.
Shelly Mullen and Patricia Bradley.....you must watch this clip. And pay particular attention to Stritch's statement about quitting. She's right you know.
I can't embed the video in this in this blog but you can go watch the excerpt of Stritch's recording for the original cast album of this song by clicking here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf52APstI0A
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The National Grand Theater in central Beijing, is lit by colored lights in readiness for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in October. (TIME Today in Pictures Thursday, September 17, 2009)
Friday, September 11, 2009
This great video was posted on CNN and shows the opening of the Dubia metro line. So take a ride and see this amazingly vibrant city that is growing at an astonishing rate. As you watch, just think about the fact that NONE of this was here 30 or 40 years ago.
This unique geological phenomenon, known as a Danxia Landform, can be seen in several places in China. This example is located in Zhangye, Gansu Province. The color is a result of millions of years of accumulated red sandstone and other sediments which have dried and oxidized.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
This dude's voice is like velvet. Someday I hope I can see him live and in concert. Some of my favorite Rufus songs: Old Whore's Diet, Oh What a World, The Art Teacher, Grey Gardens and Gay Messiah, to name just a few.
This dude has the biggest cajones......he actually performed Judy Garland's Carnegie concert in its entirety. Now that is ambition. You go, Rufus!
Monday, September 7, 2009
Nanaimo Bars (named for the city on Vancouver Island where they originated).
What I wouldn't give for one of these right now...and the cool weather of British Columbia
A type of chocolate no-bake square, it is named after the West-Coast city of Nanaimo, British Columbia. It consists of a wafer crumb-based layer, topped by a layer of light custard or vanilla butter icing, which is covered in chocolate made from melted chocolate squares. Many varieties are possible by using different types of crumb, flavours of custard or icing (e.g. mint, peanut butter), and types of chocolate. Two popular variations on the traditional Nanaimo bar involve mint flavoured custard or mocha flavoured custard.
Here's the recipe:
Nanaimo Bar Recipe
½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut
Melt first 3 ingredients in top of double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut, and nuts. Press firmly into an ungreased 8" x 8" pan.
½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar
Cream butter, cream, custard powder, and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Melt chocolate and butter overlow heat. Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.
This book was a work of catharsis, I suspect. And yet it is a book about redemption and even perhaps forgiveness.
Silvin, the son of a wealthy father, is sent early (his aunt says too early) to La Clairiere, a Swiss boarding school in the early sixties, a holding place for the young lad until he attains the age that he can go to Le Rosey, in Gstaad. This first school is a nightmare, with the head master and his wife truly fiendish villains of Dickinsian proportions. Silvin is eventually removed from the school after suffering both physical and sexual abuse which leaves him scarred (after parents of boys from the school discover the extent of abuse that is going on).
Silvin's heartless father immediately starts the boy in Le Rosey following his departure at La Clairiere. It is a few months later that the father learns that Silvin is about to be expelled from the school because of poor grades. It seems that in addition to be on the receiving end of abuse at his previous school he also had received a limited education. Pere Silvin strikes a deal with the militaristic head master of Le Rosey, Monsieur Johannot, that if after returning from summer break the boy is able to pass all of his tests he will be allowed to stay at the school. Pere Silvin then sends Richard to daily tutorials during the summer and in his typical fashion returns the boy to his fate at Le Rosey with these parting words: "'I need not tell you that you have no options here. You will pass these tests. Think of the embarrassment you have been to me. So just stop causing all this trouble!' he exclaimed as we drove along the lake road from Geneva and approached Rolle." (the author is shown in this 1966 photo at left which is from Silvin's website).
What is remarkable about the young boy Silvin despite the bleakest odds and saddled with sizable emotional baggage, goes on not only to pass the tests but to succeed wildly at Le Rosey.
Le Rosey, located in the fashionable ski resort of Gstaad, is a Swiss boarding school for the children (boys only at the time that Silvin attended) of wealthy and/or famous parents from around the world. Its students and their parents, since 1880, have included royalty, billionaires, movie stars, captains of industry, politicians and diplomats. It is an interesting learning experience which is open to children from all cultures, which Silvin talks about in the book. Le Rosey's website today contains the following description: "A friendly international atmosphere where differences are respected, where daily life is shared between adults and youngsters in a family atmosphere, and where social life aims to build independence and self-reliance against the backdrop of a harmonious community." (Visit the Le Rosey's website: http://www.rosey.ch/en/htmlRosey/esprit.html.) Alas, this isn't the same philosophy that was wielded by Monsier Johannot during Silvin's stay at the school.
Le Rosey is the exact opposite experience from Silvin's previous school, La Clairiere. The boys have maid service, their clothes and shoes are cleaned, they are treated by the staff with the utmost respect. But the school, despite its opulence, has its own failings. And our hero, Silvin, triumphs even when faced with very unsupportive father and initially an unsupportive head master, Johannot. Silvin, who suffers sexual abuse from an older student who eventually outs the boy as a "fairy," finds himself faced again with possible expulsion because of the homophobic Johannot. Tragicially, Silvin is again punished by his father for circumstances far beyond his control (the older boy was the sexual predator, just as Silvin's lack of education when he enters Le Rosey was the result of his father's decision to send him to La Clairiere). Most people could never overcome such psychological and spiritual challenges.
But Richard does that and proves to himself, as well as his readers, that in the end he can win. I won't spoil the wonderful circumstances that occur and the various ways Silvin triumphs, but suffice it to say that the story is reminiscent of the film Chariots of Fire (the book, according to Silvin, has been described as: "Jane Eyre meets Chariots of Fire.")
Along the way you meet some of 20th century's most interesting figures: Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Rockefellers, the Shah of Iran, among just a few as Silvin and his fellow classmates grow into young men, amidst the rarefied world of the rich and powerful.
This is your classic "odyssey" as Silvin's lifelong friend and fellow classmate, Ahmed Yehia, writes on the book's back wrapper notes: "In world mythology, the archetype for greatness is the hero finding a way to extricate himself from the depths of abuse, despair, humiliation, etc. He challenges his monsters and comes out triumphant. This is as true of Ulysses as it is true of you [Silvin]."
In the end, though, I was astonished at Silvin's lack of bitterness or even retaliation to several villainous individuals. His triumphs are truly remarkable but what is most remarkable about the book is its authors ability to find a way to a better future.
Bravo! This book needs to be made into a film.
Read this great, uplifting and beautiful memoir!
For more information about the author, the book, or to order a copy visit: http://www.rrsilvin.com/. Silvin (shown below at his home in NC) is also the author of Walking the Rainbow: An Arc to Triumph, which is about the AIDS crisis in the 80's and 90's. Silvin lives in North Carolina and Palm Beach, Florida. He is currently writing another memoir titled Noblesse Oblige which is about his time as administrator at the American Hospital of Paris and his friendship with the Duchess of Windsor which will be published in 2010.
The photos above of Le Rosey are by Life Magazine © Time Inc., photography by Carlo Bavagnoli.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
My former boss used to do impressions of my laugh at work happy hours. Once, I was at the off-Broadway play Hedwig and the Angry Inch and "Hedwig" stopped the show and said directly to me: "that is the most wicked laugh I have ever heard."
Another time, in a Chicago cabaret, the performer stopped the show and commented that I had the best laugh ever. Coincidentally, I was sitting next to a gal who had her own version of a unique laugh and he finally suggested the two of us pair up and sell our laughs to studios for sitcoms.
I wish my laugh could make some income for me. Does anyone out there know of any agents in Hollywood/NY who represent people with distinctive laughs?
Well, anyway, I guess the essence of my laugh, besides its infectiousness, is that I LOVE to laugh. When I laugh (which is fairly frequently), I'm usually laughing down to my toenails.
As does this great gal at her own wedding as her fiance flubs his lines. She utterly charms and beguiles me in this. Some of the best moments in life have been when something funny happens and you just literally lose it, and it usually occurs at the most inopportune moments. (for some reason whenever I see somebody fall, even if it is bad, I become hysterical). Like this chick who is so cracked up at her fiances line flub. I just love it when she starts guffawing (I love this word, guffaw, just as much as I love doing it: guffawing, that is)
The cutey little husband is a pretty damn good sport too, with the "pancakey" comment. I love this gal. She won my heart. You'll want to watch this several times because it is just priceless. Have a happy day! "My waffley wedded wife": sounds like Roger Rabbit or Elmer Fudd, no? I just know that is what Melissa is thinking.
I was very eager to see the movie particularly of the goddess, la Streep! And the movie was just AS GOOD as the book I think because of the two actresses.
There were slight differences......I don't think that "Julie" in the movie was nearly as funny as in the book. I've even seen a few reviews that called her character "whiny". But I think Amy Adams is brilliant in the film. And the other GREAT thing about the movie are the two "J's" spouses. The actor who plays Julie's husband is a total hottie (Chris Messina). And Julia's husband, played by Stanley Tucci, is equally as appealing.
The film is just a wonderful confection and most notably Streep's version of Julia Child. This actress just never does anything but brilliant and this role illustrates this. She captures the essence of Julia Child without become a caricature, a very difficult mission because Julia Child was really WAS a caricature in real life.
I'm going to go see this movie again this weekend. It is, like Cheri (see my previous post about the movie Cheri starring another godesss Michelle Pfeiffer), just so nuanced and such a work of art that multiple viewings is essential.
But I'd suggest reading the book first. It will make the film a little more interesting, I think. The book has a lot of biographical material about Julie Childs but I think they incorporate much more in the movie.
Go see this film! and READ this book. You can order it at my website: www.jmvintage.com.
Here's the movie's trailer (see how totally cute and adorable Chris Messina is!)
Isn't it tragic that these magnificent animals (Pygmy elephant, Sumatra tiger, polar bear, giant panda) are species on the brink of nonexistence? I love elephants and if I HAD to return to this pathetic planet again because of reincarnation, I would come back as an elephant.
Except if they are going to be extinct (thanks to our pathetic worthless species) then I suppose I'd have to make another choice. Maybe a hummingbird or a dolphin (dolphin and elephants are my favorite).
Or maybe a great white shark who could eat up mankind and make that species extinct :)
It is so very sad to look at these photos and think of their extinction. They are all such beautiful creatures. For more information read this great Time article at http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1888702_1863797,00.html or visit the world endangered species website
Thursday, September 3, 2009