Monthly Archives: May 2011

Good Advice





As seen at the Neilson Hays Library, Bangkok.

I couldn’t agree more. 🙂

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An Oasis

If asked to describe the city I live in I would say it resembles a great beehive, each little chamber like a secret place ensconced in the great construction of concrete, metal and wires. Bangkok is not a city made for walking, even if one is brave enough to fight the heat and slide through the crowded sidewalks, dodging the peddlers and the pots of food without their lids on, the uneven paving in places and the noisy tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis coming from all sides.

Strangely enough, there was none of that as I arrived at the Neilson Hays Library, located in one of the city’s busiest areas but mercifully enough on a side street that was almost deserted last Sunday morning. The building itself reminded me of the ones at home, in the area we call “the old city”, as it stood white and elegant and so very different from the other constructions I was used to, that it had the air of a familiar oasis in the harsh desert. The poster at the entrance announced “Bangkok Literary Festival” and I thought with a smile that I couldn’t have picked a more perfect day for my first visit.

I made my way inside, to the interior “garden” which was almost entirely occupied by stands of books for sale, and immediately to my right found the entrance to the library building and went in. A feeling of homesickness came over me as I saw the book cabinets crammed full of books, and I walked around for a while, recognizing an author here and there and finding a few interesting new ones whose works looked promising.

Right in the middle of the library there was a space arranged with chairs and a smiling little Asian man was talking about “The Art of Cook Book Writing”. I sat down at the edge of one chair and opened my booklet with the program for the day. The speaker was Ken Hom, a celebrity chef, whose love for food led to several books and a BBC tv series in 1984. The lecture was interesting even if a tiny bit pompous for my taste but enjoyable nevertheless. He spoke about his love for food, the traditional way of presenting it – “food cut up in squares or coming out of tubes is not my thing” (something along those lines – and I couldn’t agree more) and the importance of testing your food several times before you actually commit it to a book. He said another thing that stuck with me – if someone likes one of your recipes you’ve got a fan for life – and I remembered my friend Maggie who introduced me to Christmas cookies last December which ignited in me a passion for baking. 

After the lecture I went into the Rotunda Gallery, a small circular room with paintings on the walls and an inscription right above the door. When I came out another lecture was about to start, and the speaker was a writer whose books I’ve seen in the local bookstores but somehow never felt inclined to buy: Stephen Leather. I spent another few minutes going around the shelves, taking pictures, looking at some of the magazines on the tables, and just enjoying myself.

I left with a pang of regret but also happy that I discovered a nice little refuge in the great hot beehive that is Bangkok, one that I would definitely go back to every now and then.





*Click on the photos to enlarge.


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Depeche Mode, again

I’m in one of my melancholic moods again and this song appears to match my state of mind. Ever since I started listening to Depeche Mode – a lifetime ago it seems – I’ve listened to their songs whenever I felt sad. They are like a bandage on a wound, they don’t heal it but they help. Whether the lyrics are about pain, love, sex, religion – and the list goes on – they have an almost surreal quality, a perfect blend between sounds and words. Sometimes I sing along and sometimes I just lie in the dark with my eyes closed, letting the song take over the room, invade my thoughts, each note finding its way into my heart, soothing, calming, peaceful. And so does this song:

Love will leave you cold and lonely
Love will lift you up to the sky
Break your heart oh so slowly
And never give a reason why

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On Reading “Drood” by Dan Simmons – Part II

The story continues on its twisted little way through the 1860’s now, and we get to see (as much seeing as a book can provide, which in this case is plenty) how the events unfold. The search for the elusive Drood continues and if not for the frequent mentions of the opium that seems to be a constant companion to Wilkie, it would be hard not to believe every word of the story. The opium provides a good excuse for disbelieving the narrator’s account of those years. Wilkie’s frustration at not being able to describe the way he feels about the use of the drug is very apparent:

“Each week I could see in King Lazaree’s dark-eyed look his absolute knowledge of both my growing divinity and growing frustration at not being able to share my new knowledge via the dead bulk of letters being set down and pushed around on a white page like so many ink-carapaced and quill-prodded beetles.”

Doubts begin to creep in. Does this Drood really exist or is he a made up man conjured by the shaken and traumatized mind of Dickens? He claimed to have first seen the man on the day he was involved in a train accident, an event from which he never fully recovered until his death five years later. He survived without sustaining any apparent physical damage, and so did his companions, a young actress and her mother, whose identities he was most careful to protect. The author sets that event as the starting point of the novel, and also as the event that will change the course of many lives. Drood becomes the enigma in the two friends’ lives, but seems to take over Wilkie’s with a force he can’t seem to resist. It’s no secret that Wilkie and Dickens have a sometimes strained friendship, due to both authors’ inflated egos which leads to many discussions and not all of them pleasant.

Should we forgive Wilkie’s harsh words or should we agree with him? Somehow I felt like I had to take sides and maybe I did from time to time. I felt won over by Dickens’ passion as a performer on his reading tours, by his thirst for life, by the depth of his feelings and sometimes even by his cruelty.

We get to see Drood – the author provides a full description of the man’s lair and of the man himself, his unusual appearance, his speech with the hisssing sssounds of a slithering snake, his rituals and old gods he presumably serves.

The end left me a bit confused, as I was looking forward to find out who this Drood really was. If Dickens’ confession of mesmerism (a subject I found particularly fascinating) was true, if Wilkie’s imagination – fuelled by countless glasses of laudanum and opium dreams – was too much for his own good, who’s to say… The fact that Simmons makes it so that the reader is offered an excuse for this incredible tale makes it all the more believable.

*Read in May 2011

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The End

What is an end but an excuse for a new beginning? The end is like a creaky old door in a drafty old house.  And some doors close quietly, never making a sound or leave a trace of ever having been opened while others refuse to close quietly but make a noise that pierce the silence like a sharp long needle. The beauty of it all is that there’s more than a door in a house that can be opened in the meantime, and even if that doorknob shall gather dust like the hinges collect rust, the door is still there and may one day be opened again. So let it end that it may begin again in other form and other shape and perhaps with even greater force than before.

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Back to Square One

Today I had murderous thoughts going through my head. I remember a friend of mine who had told me more or less the same thing only a few days ago when her personal trainer kept pushing her beyond of what she thought were her limits.

Today I found out exactly what she was trying to say.


My “walking plan” was short lived and I was forced to admit, once again, that only a strict exercise plan can help me lose weight. That being said, I went back to the gym. Another gym, one that I used to go to a few years ago. I still remember some of the trainers that still work there. They are all very nice, friendly and helpful. One of them, a girl, gave me a tour of the machines and instructed me as to how many sets and repetitions to do on each. Then she stayed with me and started counting. Remember those murderous thoughts I mentioned? Well, after countless repetitions (at some point I forgot to count but she didn’t) and lots of huffing and puffing and many more thoughts of giving up (I pushed them aside) arms shaking, legs wobbling, I managed to survive my first day back at the gym. Now I have to admit that left to my own devices, I would have taken it slower, much slower, but with the trainer watching my every move there was a slim chance of doing anything else but go through with it all. She was encouraging, smiling all the time, helping every now and then, but not once did she tell me to stop. If I ever decide to hire a personal trainer, I might consider choosing her for the job.

And so, with music from my tiny red mp3 player blasting in my ears and a bottle of water, I start yet again on my road to being fit. I have no idea if this new journey will be a success but what I do know is that I’m not ready to give up yet. Not by a long shot.

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La vita è bella (1997)

A good movie is entertaining, a great movie feels like a reward. This one surpasses the good and the great and it goes into the realm of amazing.
The story starts with two friends on a journey, some confusing moments, and an unexpected encounter that sparks a beautiful love story.
Guido and Dora seem to be made for each other. His ability to add a bit of that magic ingredient called humour  to every situation leaves everybody open mouthed and sweeps Dora off her feet. Buon giorno principessa, he would shout every time they met, a large smile on his face, eyes dancing with joy.
The first part of the movie feels like a fairytale, the prince has met his princess (or principessa for the sake of accuracy) and they lived happily ever after. But there is a war going on, and the prince is a Jew, which makes things complicated. The fairytale is torn to shreds when reality sets in and we get to see the happy family (their little boy as well) shipped on a train to a concentration camp where Dora would be taken to the women’s quarter leaving her husband and little son by themselves.
That’s when Guido’s resources are put to the test and I was pleasantly surprised to watch as he found yet another way to lift his son’s spirits and also to let his wife know he is alive and thinking of her.
I laughed while crying and the other way around and at the end of the movie I felt happy, even though I probably shouldn’t have.
If you like fairytales, watch it.
If you believe things happen for a reason, watch it.
If you want romance, watch it.
If you want something funny and heartbreaking and amazing and wonderful, watch it. And after you do, come and leave a few words here and tell me if you liked it. It would be very much appreciated.

As with many great movies, this one has a soundtrack which completes the story beautifully.

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Now and Then

For he lives twice who can at once employ, The present well, and e’en the past enjoy.

(Alexander Pope)

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On Reading “Drood” by Dan Simmons – Part I

I consider reading to be one of the greatest pleasures in life,  so accessible and so utterly rewarding it never fails to delight and amaze me. I have been known to read in buses – either seated or standing up, one hand holding on to dear life while with the other trying to keep the book as steady as possible, at the bus stops – raising my head every few words to make sure my bus doesn’t just speed by (in Thailand you have to signal for the bus to stop, otherwise, if nobody wants to get off, the bus goes on its merry way) in short breaks at work, in the city while waiting for friends, not to mention the songteaw which is the most challenging of all vehicles to read in because of the constant jolts and breaks which make my eyes jump from the page. If I could read on the back of a motorcycle-taxi (I have to take one daily on my commute home) I would, but as much as I love reading I love my own safety even more so I decided to pass on that particular experience.

One of my favorite places to read (if not the favorite place – I haven’t decided yet) is on the spacious balcony of my house where I keep an old beach chair whose color was once a striking red but has now faded due to the many rains that have repeatedly drenched it. When the rain starts I always tell myself I should go and rescue the chair from the downpour and I always forget – and if I don’t do it at that precise moment then I might as well not do it at all, because within minutes the chair is soaked anyway.

This afternoon I spent a few hours in that sun-bleached and water washed chair, reading Drood by Dan Simmons, a book recommended to me by a friend whose reading tastes are so similar to mine that it is almost sure my feelings about this book will only echo his. I am up to page 270 out of a 958 pages’ book and thought it a good number to stop at and write a few words about the story within. With some books it’s a challenge to pin down a few words in a short review but with others the words spill forward when I’m not even halfway through.

Drood is a mysterious character in the novel that bears his name – a tall, disfigured, solitary man with secrets to hide and with none other than the famous Charles Dickens on his trail trying to discover them. The story is told from the perspective of Dickens’ friend Wilkie Collins, another famous author, best known for writing The Woman in White.

The events take place in the mid 1850’s London and the author does a very believable job of describing the life within that city – I could imagine myself right there at the heart of the action. Wilkie’s account of his relationship with Dickens, the Inimitable, and particularly of their quest in finding the mysterious character Drood, is a journey I found myself drawn into with very little effort on my part. Dan Simmons mixes fiction with real facts and real people and this makes the story even more believable and intriguing and that is one of the first things I look for in a book: to make me believe. No matter how farfetched, strange and twisted and maybe even gross the story is, if I can believe, then I am almost sure I will enjoy the book. My only regret is that of not having read more of Charles Dickens’ work to fully appreciate the references in the novel, before embarking on this reading experience, nor have I had the pleasure of enjoying Collins’ the Woman in White, but that is something to be remedied in the future.

Posted in The Book on The Nightstand | 2 Comments

Reach out…

A great remix by my favorite band. It makes me want to get up and dance!


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