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The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver

Mexico, 1935.  Harrison Shepherd is working in the household of famed muralist Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo.  Sometimes cook, sometimes secretary, Shepherd is always an observer, recording his experiences in diaries and notebooks.  When exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky arrives, Shepherd inadvertently casts in his lot with art and revolution and his aim for an invisible life is thwarted forever.

This has been on my to read pile ever since I read Cuban writer, Leonardo Padura’s excellent novel, The Man Who Loved Dogs. The title, The Lacuna alludes to much in the text, the gaps in the reader’s knowledge of Shepherd’s life, his feelings of not fitting in, and of the other characters stories and in part their motivations.

Like a game of football, this is a book of two halves. The latter part I found to be a lot more engaging, partly because it allows the narrator more room to speak, and also as it helps fill in another gap in history that I hadn’t really much knowledge about.  Perhaps that is excusable as most of European literature and history is focusing on the rebuilding of the continent after WWII and our own part in the Cold War.

The past is all we know of the future

To begin with I wasn’t overly blown away by the writing, more annoying was that certain themes were alluded to and then outright brought to my attention through the narrator. It would have been much more subtle, if left hanging in the background, for the reader to discover, even if on a second or third read through.

I didn’t get much of a sense of Diego Rivera as a character either, he is fairly peripheral, his wife Frida is more interesting and remains pleasingly enigmatic, although she is seen as faultless, precisely because of her faults. Trotsky is mainly seen as a hero/saint type of figure, lacking some of the complexity that could have made him more interesting, as in Padura’s book.  Shepherd himself is detached in this first part, as he struggles to discover his place, and true self. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on 26/07/2018 in Fiction

 

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The Lunar Men – Jenny Uglow

Led by the larger-than-life Erasmus Darwin, the Lunar Society of Birmingham were a group of eighteenth-century amateur experimenters who met monthly on the Monday night nearest to the full moon.  Echoing to the thud of pistons and the wheeze of snorting engines,Jenny Uglow’s vivid and swarming group portrait brings to life the inventors, artisans and tycoons who shaped and fired the modern world.

If ever there was a book to celebrate the exhilaration of investigation, that infectious enthusiasm for knowledge, then this is surely a strong contender. In an age where amateurs could be at the forefront of breakthroughs in the sciences, the Lunar Society were keen to share knowledge which brought on new trains of thought and enquiry, as they dared to dream the fantastical.

These pioneers were to explore many different facets of our world;  through botany, geology, physics, medicine, art, literature and so on, as well as profit (for themselves and country), politics, and market forces.  The group also felt the full force of the beginnings of the burgeoning, awkward relationship between science and religion.

The scope of the book is impressive, each of these men could have had a book devoted to themselves so combining them into one overlapping narrative is a monumental feat.  To keep things fresh, we move between the main players frequently, it helps with both pace and the narrative structure, and allows the huge amount of innovations to be explored in their (more or less) chronological order.

It feels genuinely exciting to follow these lives and the societal changes that stem from their drive.  The book doesn’t just focus on the professional but humanises them with plenty of details about their personal lives, which are as eccentric as their work lives.  It reveals heart and a resonance that is lacking in some other – drier – books on this era. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 19/07/2018 in History, Science

 

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Bali Days 3-5: ‘Your Husband is a Very Bad Man’

Today – being day 3 – Crissy, Crissy’s mum (AKA Mamabear) and I, have a new driver and to get the ball rolling he took us to an ‘artist’s village’ that we didn’t ask to go to.  Being that he’s a local we took a punt and decided to explore as he must know the best places to go.  What we got was a silver shop in which pieces are mass-produced, put on sale at a high price to which, had we paid our driver would have gotten a commission. Again the same hard sell, follow you around pushing the ‘bargain’ pricing, bordering on desperation.  We held firm, being cheap and having principles and left nonplussed as I suspect was everyone else involved.

Next we went to a great art gallery which was the same sort of set up, admittedly it did have some really good paintings and local feeling, and I did enjoy browsing. Noticing that many had been certified as original one offs, I decided to ask if I could take some photos for the blog and share the local artists but no photos are allowed.  Its hard not to be cynical at this point about the reasons why but I can’t help speculating that these originals were just a selection of a long line of just such works.

We foolishly mentioned our hiking intentions for the next day which our driver overheard and – lacking any sort of tact professionalism and courtesy – proceeded to repeatedly mention that his friend who could get us a better deal (this before we even mentioned the price we were paying) and even kindly – and unexpectedly – drove us to said friend without telling us that was his intention.  Eager for a bargain, we listened and he gave us a price more expensive than we were paying, and then dropped it to what we were already paying, rendering the trip pointless.  In the end we managed to get a better deal from our original arrangement, it’s worth noting that everything can pretty much be bartered down to 50% or more off if you bargain hard, such is the mark up put on prices for tourists.

As you can tell by my tone, I was already jaded by the way we were seen as cash cows to be milked but it didn’t end there.  As soon as we got to our hotel, we were accosted for a massage by the locals, it’s a terrible, desperate advert for any place but here it is par for the course.  The scenery was great however and the air clean, and we looked forward to our 4am hike.  Winding down in the evening, we decided to turn on the TV and take in some Indonesian TV.  There was one channel of what looked like a serious drama but with a laughter track.  There was also a lock on both the inside and outside of the bathroom door, and a mosquito net liberally coated with bug spray which made for a less than pleasant sleep. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 18/06/2018 in Bali, Travel

 

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A Little History of Archaeology – Brian Fagan

What is archaeology? The word may bring to mind images of golden pharaohs and lost civilizations, or Neanderthal skulls and Ice Age cave art. Archaeology is all of these, but also far more: the only science to encompass the entire span of human history—more than three million years!

This Little History tells the riveting stories of some of the great archaeologists and their amazing discoveries around the globe: ancient Egyptian tombs, Mayan ruins, the first colonial settlements at Jamestown, mysterious Stonehenge, the incredibly preserved Pompeii, and many, many more. In forty brief, exciting chapters, the book recounts archaeology’s development from its eighteenth-century origins to its twenty-first-century technological advances, including remote sensing capabilities and satellite imagery techniques that have revolutionized the field. Shining light on the most intriguing events in the history of the field, this absolutely up-to-date book illuminates archaeology’s controversies, discoveries, heroes and scoundrels, global sites, and newest methods for curious readers of every age.

Part of the Little Histories series, A Little of History of Archaeology is a good overview of the discipline.  As befitting of the subject, Fagan slowly uncovers the beginnings of the pursuit from King Charles of Naples, at Herculaneum, up until the present day.  The enthusiastic introduction sets the book up nicely, throwing in some choice, lesser known facts to hook the reader and begin a globe-trotting journey through time.

We start the journey proper in Egypt, and travel all the way through to the present day, seeing the gradual honing of the archaeological craft, from haphazard digs chasing treasures – real or imagined – to the more careful, professional approach which has led us to a deep and ever-changing understanding of the past.

Throughout we meet some fascinating characters; adventurers, vicars, museum curators, army officers, and the like who all contribute in some way to the learning of an art and the teasing of knowledge, quite literally out of the ground, through their failures successes and frustrations.  The writing style is very light and everything is set out in a simple manner giving the reader an engrossing narrative that can be dipped in and out of at anytime without undue confusion. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 24/05/2018 in Architecture, History, Science

 

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A Month in the Country – J. L. Carr

A damaged survivor of the First World War, Tom Birkin finds refuge in the quiet village church of Oxgodby where he is to spend the summer uncovering a huge medieval wall-painting. Immersed in the peace and beauty of the countryside and the unchanging rhythms of village life he experiences a sense of renewal and belief in the future. Now an old man, Birkin looks back on the idyllic summer of 1920, remembering a vanished place of blissful calm, untouched by change, a precious moment he has carried with him through the disappointments of the years.

It’s been an utter pleasure rereading this splendid short book, heading back to 1920’s Oxgodby and its five hundred year old church painting. Reacquainting myself with the inhabitants, and a way of life lost to time reminded me of Carr’s evocative prose and the beauty of the English countryside.

This is a great story to get lost in – one which demands repeat readings be savoured – it really accentuates the little things in life, those wondrous things that surround us, yet seem hidden in plain sight until viewed in hindsight. There is a comforting sense of isolation here, a total delight to be immersed in.

The plot revolves around the methodical and gradual uncovering of a medieval wall painting and this also extends to the personalities of the  people.  As time moves on there is a slow exposing of both, as well as the social life of the village.  All this is played out in such a relaxed manner that the under the surface busyness is very subtly played out.

Birkin’s love for mechanisms and how the parts slot together are a fitting metaphor for how he sees the community and also in a literal sense of the time. There is a feeling of being on the cusp of changes in his life, in the rhythms of countryside and nature and how the industrial age is really starting to impact the isolated countryside.  It’s pleasurably melancholy and allows readers of any age to feel the loss of what once was. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 05/03/2018 in Fiction

 

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And Out the Other Side

To the final post from this wonderful museum and more variety and intriguing works were to be seen,

and to kick things off, there is nothing like a bit of a nod to Europe to start, even it is of the dark days…

I love this painting for really showing not only the imagination of the artist but the crazy ideas we all possess that are waiting to get out.

This one was about an exploding woman made of cheese, if memory serves me correctly.  I prefer the idea of the mainstream traditional media having egg all over themselves thanks to their increasingly questionable news reporting. Read the rest of this entry »

 
24 Comments

Posted by on 27/02/2018 in Art, Photography, The Philippines, Travel

 

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Further inside the Pintô Art Museum

Continuing the tour through various galleries of the Pintô Art Museum and the diverse work of Filipino artists took a slightly more whimsical, wooden direction this time.

I am rubbish at filters so sorry if these are again poor quality, it is partly that and also the lack of light which is a constant struggle to someone clueless when it comes to such things.

I like the wooden, framed effects of this artwork.  Overall this was my favourite gallery for consistency in theme. Read the rest of this entry »

 
18 Comments

Posted by on 26/02/2018 in Art, Photography, The Philippines, Travel

 

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