Destination: Christmas #11

This Christmas series is brought to you thanks to Book Riot’s Literary Advent Calendar. It’s a combination of poetry, short stories, and essays. I’ll be posting every day, some days twice to keep up with my regular posts. Click the story title for the full text. Now, let’s get this Christmas show on the road!

Day 11

The Huron Carol

I’ve had a surprisingly productive day and yet, somehow, not as productive as I thought it was going to be. I’m making a convoluted cake recipe, which involves making other recipes in order to complete the first one. This is what I get for opening my cookbooks and choosing the thing with the most alcohol content in the recipe. Shame on me.

Tonight’s piece was absolutely unexpected. I haven’t included a link to the text in the title because it’s actually a song! To be more specific, it’s a Canadian Christmas hymn composed by a Jesuit missionary living among the Hurons. According to Wikipedia (Yes, I’m quoting Wikipedia stop judging me), the song’s original title is “Jesous Anhatonhia” which means “Jesus, He is Born” and it’s based on a French folk song.

The song has imagery that makes sense in the context of a tribe. Like having hunters instead of shepherds and talking about chiefs who bring pelts instead of magi who bring gold and incense. It sounds primal, in lyric and melody. And I absolutely love it. It definitely sounds darker than the usual Christmas songs, more sombre, but that’s part of what makes it so entrancing.  I’m sure it’s a well-known song, mostly because everything I read mentions it is, but I’d never heard it before. It’s beautiful, that’s all there is to it.

The version I’m including here for you guys is performed by Heather Dale and sung in Huron, French, and English in that order. Enjoy!

Getting there

Hello everyone! 

My apologies for leaving you hanging on Wednesday! These past few days have been pretty crazy. One of my best friends got home after months of traveling, I’ve been spending time with family and friends before the trip, and don’t get me started on all the errands! 

My mo12139745_164446200567810_1189307091_nrning started out like any other…. That’s a lie. I woke up anxious at 3:42am, feeling slightly queasy and possibly congested. I had a last minute technology Q&A with my mother about what happens when phones don’t have data. I feel like I was very informative. Perhaps a future in explaining things to people should be in the cards.

At the airport everything was fine, until that terrible moment when you have to say goodbye to people. My mother always starts sobbing, which makes leaving hard because I hate having to walk away from her like that. Everything was made infinitely more amusing by the fact that after swiftly moving through the TSA screening I, just as swiftly, had to run back when I realized I’d left my computer behind.

In this back and forth I met a cowboy comedian. We kept crossing paths as he tried to find a Starbucks and I tried to find my gate. The airport was under construction, I’d like to think Cowbow Comedian and I are not as clueless as we sound.

As it stands, I’m currently writing this from an airport in Toronto as I wait for my third flight of the day to board. I look like a crazy person carrying around an unnecessary amount of bags which just accentuates how not smooth I am. With anything.

Before leaving Puerto Rico, I asked a guy if he was hungover and he replied that he’d just come from his grandfather’s funeral. Just a small example of my lack of finesse. We then proceeded to talk about The Walking Dead, so I’m guessing he wasn’t terribly put off. In the end we went our separate ways, but I’ll never forget that one guy I said inappropriate things to at the airport.

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I’ve left Canada on what is to be the final leg of my journey. All I can say is, so long and thanks for all the hot men at the airport. You’re doing good things on that front, Canada.

I fell asleep as soon as the plane started moving on the tarmac and woke up to find a WHOLE hour had passed. I’m trying to make it seem more thrilling than it actually was. So, armed with delicious cookies and entirely nondescript tea, I’ve decided to be productive and write this long overdue post.

I decided to put the Around the World Challenge on hold as I actually visit bits of the world. I’ve been feeling like reading very particular things, so I’m taking this time to satisfy that literary craving. I will however, finish Colorado before I put it on hold. So, look for that post sometime next week!

I’ve brought with me Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics, a collection of 34 short stories that combine science and myths (origin stories?). I’ve read the first two so far and they’ve been amazing. Not what I expected at all and so much better than anything I could’ve predicted. The stories are funny, clever, and really inventive, so I’m looking forward to reading the rest.

The other book I brought with me is the Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman. This one is a collection of essays, rather than stories. Lightman writes about science and the universe from a more human perspective. He creates a marriage of the objective and factual with the beauty and wonder that is being a human part of the cosmos. At least, that’s my understanding of the text. I haven’t started reading it properly yet.

The rest of the books I read will come as I gleefully buy them during my travels. I’m going to try to post as often as possible, rather than on a set schedule in order to share as much as I can of this trip with you. Remember to check out today’s Alphabet Soup, as well!

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I’m now in Scotland, but with a limited internet connection so bear with me folks!

Final Thoughts: St. Urbain’s Horseman by Mordecai Richler

Evening!

As I said yesterday, I finally finished St. Urbain’s Horseman! I can’t tell you how excited I am. Aside from being able to move onto a new destination, I’m excited to be done with the book because it was starting to feel a bit eternal. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if I’d read it more consistently and in a shorter amount of time. C’est la vie, I suppose!

Joey, the Horseman, became a sort of God figure for Jake, who at one point described him as his conscience and moral compass. It’s interesting because by all accounts, Jake had actually spent very little time with cousin Joey. I thought at some point they’d meet again, but they never do. All Jake has are rumors and stories of who Joey was, even his death came to him via someone else and had an air of theory, rather than fact. It’s interesting because there’s a moment when Jake is writing the date of death on a journal that belonged to Joey and after writing he crossed it out to write ‘presumed dead’. That’s an act of faith if there ever was one.

For most of the characters in the book Joey became this idea or concept, bigger than himself. Each of them saw the version of Joey that benefited them or made them feel good about themselves, something they could sustain only because Joey was never around. Even when he was, he wasn’t there long enough for people to get an undeniable sense of who he was and what he wanted.

Jake asks himself, “What if the Horseman was a distorting mirror and we each took the self-justifying image we required of him?”. It’s an interesting idea because it implies that we’ve hollowed out a person, in order to fill them with our own self projections. It’s a bit like what we do with celebrities, we project onto them the rumors and characters that suit us, that make the person seem like someone we’d want to hang out with. Most importantly, I think we use this projection and mirroring effect to create people who would share our grievances and happiness, someone who would actually like us for ourselves.

In Jake’s case though, the Horseman became not an ideal pal, but a role model who held the answers to being a better, stronger man. Joey gave him an ideal, a possibility of someone he could’ve been. When Joey dies, Jake actually considers taking his place and becoming the Horseman. In his mind, Joey was The Golem, a character in Jewish legends that was created to defend the Jews (someone correct me if I’m wrong, please!) and someone needed to take his place. It’s interesting because, even though he existed, all these different characters recreated Joey, if not in their image, then certainly to fill the voids in it.

These are not characters that will break your heart or pull at your heart strings, they feel like regular people. The kind you tolerate some days and can’t wait to be rid of on others. I think that’s part of the book’s charm, that feeling of reading something completely average. There are points when their obsessions become a bit like bits out of a sitcom, but then I think there are probably people who are equally as obsessed.

This is a book I want to reread after a crash course in a lot of different subjects. It’s flooded with historical references, which means it’s easy to get lost if you’re not familiar with the events they’re referencing. Even when you’re lost though, it’s worth a read.

Well, this is it for Canada, folks! It’s taken me a while, but I finally did it and I couldn’t be happier. Now, on to our next destination….. Utah! Stay tuned, readers. The booktrip continues!

Let’s Play Catch Up

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I’m back! The mini vacation is officially over and I’m back, fully refreshed and ready to get back to writing for you beautiful people. As promised I come with stories and pictures, of varying quality since I took pictures with a bunch of different cameras and phones. That’s dedication, folks. Or laziness. It’s a very fine line, that isn’t a line at all, more like complete opposites. That’s how I roll. *shrugs*

We woke up fairly early on Monday morning, early bird gets the worm and all that. We didn’t get worms, but we did get 12 inch turnovers, pretty crazy right?! The place is called “La Casa de los Pastelillos”, it’s located in Guayama. If any of you are ever in the area, it’s definitely worth a visit, if only to say you ate a 12 in. turnover! They were actually good though, and the place was really cool, it had hammocks strung up everywhere. Also, we had a surprise visit by a duck, which was unexpected to say the least. We didn’t stay too long, because we still had a bit of a drive left to the rental place. Happily, we managed to get there in time to get some pool time in, so heading out quickly after eating proved worth it!

One of the reasons we wanted to take that mini trip was to go to a small island off the South shore called Gilligan’s Island. So, on Tuesday, we got up packed a cooler and went off to find the ferry that would take us there. What we didn’t know, perhaps a bit naïvely, was that you need to be in line for the ferry before 6am when they open, otherwise it’s pretty hard to get a ticket. We got there at around 10am and by then they didn’t have any more tickets. Because the island is so small, they usually try to control the amount of people they bring over at any one time. It’s a shame because, from what I’ve heard the island is a prime spot for snorkeling. Feeling a bit defeated, we spent the afternoon at the pool and capped the day with some home made Mexican food. Not a bad way to get over a disheartening morning, if you ask me!

Wednesday was our last day down there and it did not disappoint. We rented a small boat for a few hours and took it out to all the cays in La Parguera, which is the area where we were staying at. There was a lot swimming and basking in the Sun, but my favorite part is always being able to go snorkeling and seeing the fishes. There were strong currents in between the cays, so we would walk up the canals, then put on our snorkeling masks and let the current take us back to where we started. It was so much fun, not to mention a pretty incredible sight. Floating down we’d be surrounded by schools of tiny silver fish – close enough to touch, but always out of reach. We saw crabs and pelicans and thousands of tiny silver fish, it was great. Wednesday definitely delivered and, although we didn’t get to Gilligan’s island, we had a great time just driving around the boat and swimming around the cays.

You might be happy to know that I finally finished St. Urbain’s Horseman! My trip provided me with ample time to catch up on my reading. I’m looking forward to sharing my final thoughts on the book with you before closing up shop in Canada and moving down to Utah. I know it’s taken me a while, but I finally made it through. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the many detours along the way!

Keep it classy, readers. Until next time!

Netflix and the Passage of Time

Good evening to you all!

Today has been a bit of a blah day. I’ve got a bump on my ear from an old piercing, basically my body doesn’t know when to stop the scarification process. This means that, in certain places, my scars end up as raised bumps rather than being flat. The process to take care of it is fairly simple, they inject steroids on the site where the scarring has occurred. It’s really not a huge deal, but it hurts like a mother. Still stings, so bit of a meh day. I certainly hope you’ve all had a better day than mine!

As I deal with this horrible pain, by which I mean, as I use the situation as an excuse to chill out for the day, I’ve been catching up on old shows via Netflix. Now, I’m going to assume most of you have the service or have used it at some point. Usually, as each show ends I grab the remote and click play on the next episode, not waiting for the 20 seconds it takes for Netflix to play it automatically. At one point (Hello, my name is Leishla and I’m a binge watcher), I decided to let the seconds pass without reaching for the remote and I realized how uncomfortable it made me.

In the grand scheme of things, 20 seconds doesn’t register. However, sitting there watching the time tick by, it felt like an eternity. Of course, there is the obvious fact that being conscious of time makes its passing seem slower, but I think there is something else at play here. We’re used to a certain immediacy with things – when running a google search, when loading an app, when buffering a video. The slightest delay makes the process seem like it’s suddenly become eternal, when in fact it’s only been delayed by a few seconds. This immediacy is not limited to our physical relationship with technology, but it also affects the content we consume through it.

It used to be that articles would be at least a couple of pages long. Now, for us to consume a piece in it’s entirety, it needs to be boiled down to lists and easily digestible blocks of information. I’m not saying there aren’t people who read long articles, I’m just saying that most of the time we want information that allows us to consume it quickly so we can move on to the next piece. Things with more pages get put on a back burner, for when we have more time to spend on them. I do this a lot and I often wonder why I don’t just sit down and read it right then, but there are always other pieces pulling at my attention.

There is a compulsion to consume what’s in front of us, be it a show, an article, a movie, or even a book. For me, this last one is particularly bad. I often feel the need to consume books quickly, but sometimes I think I don’t give them enough time to simmer and really sink in as I read. It’s like rushing through the pages and not stopping to smell the metaphorical roses. We feel entitled to immediate results because we already know they’re possible and anything other than immediacy represent a problem that needs to be fixed in the process. Except, sometimes it’s not a problem, it’s just something that takes a little bit longer. 

With that in mind, I’m kind of happy I’ve taken my time with St. Urbain’s Horseman. It wasn’t on purpose and, at times, it’s seemed like a really terrible way of going about it because I lose connection with the book. However, it’s given me a chance to think it through a little bit more, to stop on certain scenes and sentences and, precisely because I’ve been disconnecting, have an opportunity to think of them outside their own context. If that makes any sense at all.

I don’t particularly like the smell of roses, but I know that when you rush through they become a mass of color that can become boring, even if it starts out being exhilarating. Say what you will (what I will) about the smell, roses are beautiful to look at; good metaphors are meant to be savored; and sometimes those 20 seconds between episodes are the perfect excuse to press pause and pee.

Here’s to touching the roses and taking a pee break! Until next time, readers. 

Pages, pages, on the shelf….

It is often said that literature is a way to enrich our lives, to explore other possibilities and points of view, but what happens when literature constantly mirrors our selves back at us? What happens when the literature we read consistently reaffirms and never challenges?

There’s a scene in St. Urbain’s Horseman, where Jake is considering how it’s not only London or Canada which he found unsatisfying, but also the books, music, and movies he had consumed over the years.

“The novels he devoured so hopefully, conned by overexcited reviews, were sometimes diverting, but told him nothing he had not already known. On the contrary, they only served to reaffirm, albeit on occasion with style, his own feelings. In a word, they were self-regarding.”

I really enjoy that phrase “self-regarding” because often, myself included, we seek out the same kind of literature over and over again. We end up reading books with the same themes, same types of characters, in the same genre, which also share the same values and general point of view. I’m not knocking it, there are people who only enjoy reading one certain genre or who usually stick to a particular subject. I read diversely, but I go through different phases where I focus on one characteristic in particular and I exploit it.

What does that continuous mirroring effect do to the way we perceive the world? I think it’s a bit like having a friend who always tells you what you want to hear, who never argues with you. It’s nice and it feels comfortable, being safe in the certainty that you will always be in the right. However, sometimes you need something that jolts you out of your comfort zone. You need that friend who stops you in your tracks and tells you you’re wrong or simply tells you you’re acting like a dick and need to reevaluate your attitude.

It’s the same with books, in my opinion, it’s great to read books about subjects that are important to you, books that reaffirm your values and points of view, but it’s also necessary to read books that challenge your assumed position. It’s these last ones that make you truly think about who you are and what you’re striving for or defending. It’s the challenge that forces us to go back to basics and either reaffirm ourselves more strongly in what we’re defending or change our perspective to include the new information.

Self-regarding. It’s a certain narcissism, isn’t it? Consuming something that constantly reflects your own  self back at you… Jake is exasperated with these types of book and I think we should be too. There are so many great books offer up a dialogue instead of a shiny surface in which to stare at ourselves. We’ve already turned so many things –phones, windows, computers – into elements that feed our narcissism, let’s not relegate books to the same fate.

What was the last book that truly challenged you? Let me know in the comments below. Until next time, readers!

Greener-grass Ideas

I don’t know about you guys, but I kinda love Home Depot. They have so many cool and practical products that you can use as intended or repurpose them into something else. We went in this morning looking for supplies because, wait for it….we’re starting a garden! I ordered a whole bunch of seeds which arrived a few weeks ago and, now that we’re all on vacation, we’re going to start planting the seeds. It should be an interesting process, especially because I have a tendency to kill plants. Happily, we got everything we need, so expect to see pictures of dirt and seeds soon. You can say they’ll be…dirty pictures….

lol That was a terrible joke, I apologize.

A few days ago I told you guys that I finally bought my tickets to Europe. I land in Scotland and will be traveling around the UK, then moving on to a few different countries. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about it all. I love this pocket of time before a trip, where you plan and pack, and get everything ready. I’m in this whole process of figuring out what I need to pack for such a long trip, thinking about which countries will be my priorities, wondering which are the books that will win a spot to fight it out in my suitcase. May the odds be ever in their favor.

Throughout it all though, I’ve been reading. Jake Hersh has turned out to be a complex character that I love and hate by moments. There’s a scene where he’s talking about how he romanticized England growing up.

“Slowly, inexorably, he was being forced to pay the price of the colonial come to the capital. In the provinces, he had been able to revere London and its offerings with impunity. Fulminating in Montreal, he could agree with Auden that the dominions were tiefste Provinz. Scornful of all things home-baked, he was at one with Dr. Johnson, finding his country a cold and uninviting region. As his father had blamed the goyim for his own inadequacies, mentally billing them for the sum of his misfortunes, so Jake had foolishly held Canada culpable for all his discontents. Coming to London, finding it considerably less than excellent, he was at once deprived of this security blanket. The more he achieved, feeding the tapeworm of his outer ambitions, the larger his inner hunger. He would have preferred, for instance, that the highly regarded Timothy Nash had been worthy of his reputation and that it was utterly impossible for Jacob Hersh to be as good. He would have been happiest had the capital’s standards not been so readily attainable and that it were still possible for him to have icons.”

I realize how arrogant he sounds thinking that greatness was “readily attainable”, but this is often what happens to us. We romanticize places and people, then are faced with the fact that what seemed like untouchable greatness from afar is actually the product of earthly processes and, actually, quite attainable with the proper dedication.

I’ve been thinking about this scene specifically in terms of my trip. I’ve wanted to visit these countries my entire life, especially England. I’m sure, after an unnameable number of movies, tv shows, books, and articles, I’ve come to romanticize them as well. England with the tea, the pearls, and the tiny biscuits. Where people say cheeky and fanny means something else entirely. I know I have my fantasies, my greener grass on the other side ideas. I think we all do. Looking around at the state of our countries, sometimes it’s hard to keep from blaming them for what Jake calls our “discontents”.

Even knowing the countries I visit will not resemble the countries of my imagination though, I still feel the imperative to travel. There’s something about standing on new ground that makes me feel like life is worth living. It reminds me that, even though sometimes it seems like my problems and my successes are bigger than everything, the world is larger than I will ever be. It’s humbling really; we’re small specks traveling in a world that holds so much more than we could ever conceive.

Jake was so convinced that Canada was what was stifling him that he never thought to see all the things it had to offer. Living in London, he realized that England was a country like any other and his icons were very talented people, but still just people.  Maybe the grass will be greener on the other side of the pond, maybe not. The only way you learn that though, is by crossing over and seeing for yourself. However, I think Dorothy had it right when she clicked her red heels and said…. there is no place like home.