Monthly Archives: January 2011

Don Juan, The Life and Death of Don Miguel de Mañara – Josef Toman

There is a book I read every few years, a book with covers yellowed by age and coffee stained pages. I found it ages ago it seems, in the bookcase my parents had in the living room. Every time I hold it in my hands I make a mental note to ask them how it got there and every time I forget.

It never crossed my mind to write a review for it until now. I do so today (after I finished re-reading the book just yesterday) because I don’t want this book to be forgotten, because it deserves more than that. Much more. Every time I read it I find new meaning in its words and even though I know sections of it by heart, I still look forward to reading them.

The story, ah, the story! Who hasn’t heard of Don Juan, one of the most famous myths in literature! His name is like a cloak under which hide young noble men whose only pursuit in life is the pleasure of the flesh. A myth as old almost as time itself. And yet, this story is alive. Every word seems to burn the page, rushing like blood through the veins after a quick run. It never falters and every page brings about a new and unforeseeable turn.

The events start in 1640, the year Miguel de Mañara turns fourteen. We get a glimpse into his family life and we see his hot- tempered father, one of the richest nobles of Spain, and his quiet religious mother whose heart hides a secret known to very few. Their lives play out against the background of a tormented country weakened by constant wars, where the gap between the rich and the poor is like an abyss with an invisible end, and where the Inquisition sees with its ever watchful eye and reaches with its greedy hands into the lives of people.

Miguel is the main character of the tale, and we get to see him grow from the young, timid boy, whose emotions are greater than he can control, to the impetuous ruthless young nobleman whose money and adventures make him feared throughout the land.

There are two people who will influence his life, both priests and both chosen by his parents, but they are as different as night and day, and under their teachings and their advice his life alters with dramatic consequences. Will he follow the path of his good Padre Gregorio, will he succumb to the twisted views of Trifon, or will he find another way? Will his search for love bring him peace or will it crush him? Questions I never tire of reading the answers to, time and again.

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Fire Dance

Manuel de Falla‘s name was unknown to me until I found him in the pages of a book I was studying at university. He was being hailed as an important Spanish composer and with curiosity nudging me along, I went to youtube in search of his songs. What I found was this amazing song that has been one of my favorite pieces of classical music ever since.

I wonder if anybody else likes it too. A simple yes or no will do. Call it a little musical survey if you like.

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Too Short

I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.
(John Burroughs)

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After Dark – Haruki Murakami

I’ve wanted to read Murakami’s work for a while now. It was one of those authors whose name would pop up every now and then, just enough to arouse my curiosity. One day, as I was wandering through a bookstore, I saw a few of his books lined up on a shelf and decided to pick one. After Dark felt like a good choice, because it was short (and I thought I’d start small) and the name was intriguing.

From the very first pages I had the feeling of being drawn into a strange environment, some sort of autopsy room where Murakami was the coroner performing the operation of cutting the flesh open. He uses his pen like a surgeon would use a scalpel, making a precise incision, exposing exactly the parts that he wants his readers to see. And we look, mesmerized, unable to move or think of anything else while he works away, slicing briefly here and there, making us draw closer, horrified and fascinated at the same time.

The narrative starts on a well defined path which little by little takes us from the real world into the realm of fantasy and back again.
The characters are well shaped and each of them vulnerable and mysterious. Over the course of one night, their lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

The action revolves around Mari, a 19 year old college student who spends a night in a diner, hoping for some temporary relief, a brief escape from the oppressed atmosphere at home. There she meets young Takahashi, a wannabe musician, and what seems an awkward encounter at first, changes gradually as the two of them start talking, sharing brief episodes of their lives, getting to know each other.
The dialogue is captivating, with unexpected turns, making it yet another tool which the author uses to expose more of his characters’ lives. Drama is ever present, and beneath their seemingly calm appearance, people’s feelings are raw, confessions abound and impressions change.
The final pages don’t bring closure but it’s more like the end of a phase and the beginning of another. There is plenty of mystery left but also the unspoken reassurance of hope, fragile yet palpable.

Read in September 2010

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You slowly rise

And color the world with hope and new beginning,

Your face, it shines,

Your light chasing the dark,

Branding the day with joy and singing.

Sometimes you hesitate,

Shapeless form gathering strength

And sometimes you shine so clear and vivid, bringing forth

Your color and your warmth.

Posted in Wandering Thoughts | 2 Comments

The Tourist

Have you ever seen a movie you really liked and then halfway through, a song comes on that gives you goosebumps? That’s what happened to me when I heard Katie Melua’s No Fear of Heights. I was watching The Tourist when I heard that song and quickly got out my notebook and pen and wrote the few words that I could grasp: “I have no fear …although I know it could drown me”. That song is only one of the great things about this movie.

The Tourist is the first movie I’ve seen at the cinema this year. I’ve wanted to watch it ever since I saw Johnny Depp was in it, just because I’m a huge fan. Ever since ….well, I don’t really know when it all started but I know I liked him as the clumsy and sensitive man in Edward Scissorhands, the crazy barber in Sweeney Todd, the timid inspector in Sleepy Hollow, the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, the irresistible gangster in Public Enemies, the pirate in The Pirates of The Caribbean series, not to forget the eccentric and slightly crazy writer in Secret Window Secret Garden or the charismatic gypsy in Chocolat and I could go on. He is the perfect actor for portraying slightly odd characters, a chameleon who adapts with each role.

The Tourist was definitely an enjoyable movie to watch, the story, the settings (what can be more romantic than Venice) and the characters make it all fit together as well as Angelina’s long suede (?) gloves. And just when you think it all goes down the path of predictability, the road takes another unexpected turn to the delight of the viewer. Johnny Depp is very believable as the American tourist with a charming if slightly off balance attitude and Angelina comes across as the femme fatale, faithful to the one love in her life that would make her go from a city to another at a moment’s notice. She won’t come in gun blazing, and her performance is good nevertheless, perhaps because of that. It is refreshing to see a movie which doesn’t actually have to be all bullets and violence to be good (although this one isn’t lacking but not as much as I expected).

I liked everything about this movie and even though it’s not a classic, I would definitely recommend it. Here’s a little preview:

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Little King

The water broke in circles, each smaller than the first, chasing each other until they vanished and the surface became still once more. I watched as a new circle formed just a bit further and first a beak, then a small black head pierced the liquid surface of the pond. It turned to one side and then back again only to disappear quickly underneath, leaving a trail of ripples behind.

The bird came out with a splash, its body dripping with water, and flew to a piece of wood that was sticking out in the center of the pond. It stood there small and wet and black,     beating its wings against the wind. After a while it went into the water again, only to surface a few meters from where it had started, then dived and came out a few seconds later in another part of the pond.
The day opened around like a small bud in the path of the sun. The wind caressed the tall grass at the edge of the pond making it bend slowly to the ground in a humble salute. Butterflies scattered, delicate winged creatures bearing nature’s artwork on their backs in bright shades of orange. The air was unscented and heavy with humidity.

The mighty sun started to climb in the sky and send his rays to warm the world. The little bird was swimming rapidly underwater leaving a trail of mud behind, like a comet flying through space. It flew again to its resting place and there it stood, wings outstretched in the wind. “Welcome to my kingdom!” it said. “Welcome!”
September 03, 2006

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The Man Near The River

He is the man near the river. I don’t know his name and even if I did it would be of no importance. After all, it’s just sounds and letters strung together on an invisible thread and hung around one’s neck to be worn for eternity. A chain, a burden if you like, that one has to carry for the rest of his life.
He is just…. there. I see him every day, always at the same time and in the same place and almost always doing the same thing. He is sitting on a low stool, his naked brown torso and huge belly shining with sweat that stains his gray pants. His back is  slightly bent forward and the scarce gray hair he has left has been plastered to his head by the unmerciful heat. There are no shoes on his feet and the toes with misshapen nails are clearly visible. He looks straight ahead, his hands between his knees holding a piece of cloth dripping with dirty water. The soap he’s holding makes bubbles in his hands and then his hands come together, rubbing the fabric with a movement that tells of many days spent near the river with a naked torso and the sun making tiny rivers run on his bare skin.

Does he see me? I wonder. I mean does he really see me? Sometimes it feels like deja-vu     seeing him there day after day, always at the same time and almost always doing the same thing over and over again.  He dips the cloth in the plastic bucket, brings it up and starts cleaning it with a small brush. For a moment he seems to be looking straight at me and time stops and I try to think of something to do, maybe smile, but unmerciful time does not wait  and I go, carried by my motorcycle taxi on my way home from a tiring day at work.
August 27, 2006

P.S. As you can see by the date, this story is quite a few years old. It was described exactly as I saw it and strangely enough, I got to see that man again, just a few weeks ago. He was wearing the same type of clothes and he was thinner and had lost his hair but I recognized him instantly. Funny how things work.

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Saturday Song

I heard this one on the radio this morning while having breakfast. All the way through my bread and honey slice of bread I’ve wondered who the singer was. Her voice sounded familiar but I just couldn’t place it. And like all the other times when trying to solve this kind of mystery, Google helped.


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A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

I started on Hemingway’s book with a tingle of anticipation. I had never read any of his work before and A Moveable Feast had whispered to me for a while until I found it on the shelves of a bookstore and took it home.
The story takes place from 1921 to 1926, when Hemingway was young and in love and had given up his job as a journalist to become a full time writer. He and his wife were living in Paris, an inexpensive city where you could live cheaply and well “even if you were poor”. The city‘s cafes and restaurants are most prominent in his memories, for there doesn’t seem to be a single page where drink or food would not be mentioned.

The book starts quite suddenly, as if Hemingway was just then in the middle of a story he was telling and it follows at a steady pace all through the end. Whether he is talking about the places, the people or his writing (which was one of my favorite parts), his tone varies very slightly when he reminisces about the past and his encounters with the famous writers of that time. Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford and T.S. Eliot are but a few of those he mentions, sometimes with less than glowing words. One that seemed to have made a more lasting impression was Scott Fitzgerald, and there appeared to be a dual attitude to this friendship, as if Hemingway couldn’t make up his mind if he disliked or admired him. Or maybe it was a bit of both.

I found it rather difficult to relate to some parts of the book like the races and the drinking, but the seemingly easy, bohemian life, had a melody which made me envy those who were fortunate enough to live it. The walks, the books, the cafes, the fellow writers, all part of a world that was and can never be again, a time when “we were very poor and very happy”.

Read in December 2010

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