Monday, April 12, 2021

I'd rather read

 There are ways you can pass your time but I just prefer to read as reading brings me so much pleasure.

For several weeks, I juggled my time between what I would rather be reading and performing my professional duty arguing the merits of a couple of cases where the legal issues at hand could have been easily resolved if only the parties  involved had some sense and sensibility.

Perhaps there is this constant restlessness that compels you to search. It is something elusive, maybe you just want to have the sense of epiphany when the writer says something that you totally connect with. But how can you be a hundred percent sure that was what was intended by the writer?

I simply enjoy words and how they are strung  together to convey a thought , an idea or simply an observation about life.

Before when I had to do all that ferrying and errands run amidst my full time work, I  used to exercise a whole lot more , hitting tennis  four to five times weekly and attending yoga session twice  a week was what kept me recharged and  energized. In between school runs and ferrying the children, when I managed to get a spot, I welcomed the wait outside the classes  as I could read a couple of pages of fictions I had but I had to keep my eyes on the cars that were in the queue in case they started to move. I only read fictions that I could easily dive in and out.

Even before the pandemic and the  lockdown that followed, I had not been exercising as much. These days,  walking our dog is part of my morning routine on most weekdays and I am glad to have resumed my gym training at a private gym on Saturday morning.

Often I find my mind being torn several directions and it can be overwhelming. When that happens, reading helps me to unwind and in turn provides me the headspace I need.

I read Ghosts by Dolly Alderton a few weeks ago. It is contemporary fiction set in North London. The protagonist, Nina George Dean is a food writer and the story begins with her turning thirty-two years old on 3rd August 2018. She is at a good place in her career path and earns enough money to pay for the mortgage of her first home, a small one-bed flat  in Archway, on the first floor of a Victorian house. While she knows that she will probably take as long as she lives there to afford to do up her new place, she feels lucky every morning to wake up and look up at the swirly crusts of her Artex ceiling because previously she never imagined that she would ever own a flat in London. She has published her first book, Taste, a recipe book that  ‘also had a thread of memoir spun in between the recipes

The narratives are in Nina’s voice and contain her musings and happenings in her life.  She used to balance a night-and-weekend occupation as a supper club owner with her day job as an English teacher at a secondary school. She managed to save enough to quit and become a full-time food writer. Her first book is a surprise success and she has just completed her second book, The Tiny Kitchen. Her break-up with her first and only boyfriend, Joe has been amicable and they remain good friends and supportive of each other. She has been single for two years since the end of her relationship with Joe. They were together for seven years, lived together for four. After they broke up, she tried to catch up on all the sex with a six-month promiscuity spree and finally decided that she should stop dating and see what really being on her own felt like so since then she started living and travelling on her own for the first time.  Recently she feels ready to start dating again.

Her father,  a retired teacher begins to display signs of dementia  while her mother appears to be re-inventing herself. Nina meets 37-year-old Max via Linx Online, a dating App. Max is an accountant and he reads literary fiction, says the right thing and  asks her to marry him on their first date.  He is very tall, has curly dishevelled hair and rugged looking, is he for real?

She has been really close with her father and she realizes that ‘ while the future might strip him of his self, something mightier remained.’  

She talks to her dad about how she finds adulthood a disappointment and worry.

“‘What are you worried about?’

‘I’m worried I’m not going to live the life I always thought I’d have. I’m worried I have to come up with a new plan.’

There’s no point coming up with a plan,’ he said, shaking his head sternly. ‘ Life is what happens….’”

The premise of the novel  is not groundbreaking but the plot is relatable, nicely paced  and well executed. Issues about finding love in the right place, caring for aging parents, married best friend slipping away and gender biased biological clock ticking are ageless and not limited to the millennials. The author is telling a story that seems mundane but in so far as relationships and friendships, the reflections and thoughts are perceptive and insightful. When Max disappears, she wonders if she imagines love. It is a compelling read and you will devour the story as quickly as you can because you want to know what happens to her and Max. The narratives about getting old and aging parents are poignant and are peppered with tender observations about becoming adult. As  life changes  for Nina and Katherine, her best friend in school, there is nostalgia about how things used to be and childhood memories. Nina realizes that she misses her home when her dad was fine. While she is bright and financially independent, she feels like a little girl with a dying dad.

Ghosts  is divided into  two parts that comes with a prologue and an epilogue.

These  little captions under Part One and Part Two say it all.

‘It is our imagination that is  responsible for love, not the other person

Marcel Proust

‘ Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind

A Midsummer night’s Dreams, William Shakespeare’

Dolly Alderton‘s debut novel is an excellent read.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Time Out

 A Book Review

From A Wonky Path to an Open Road

Author : Janey de Nordwall 

I had wanted to start reading the memoir when I first received it in February but then some urgent work emerged and needed attention thus  I had to leave it for several weeks before I could finally relish it.

From a Wonky Path to an Open Road is an absolutely delightful and heartwarming read as  the author not only shares tales of her solo road trip, she muses about her career choice and how she  weathered through all the highs and lows in her production path.

Janey de Nordwall is  a British film producer who had won a BAFTA and also several short film awards. At fifty-two years of age, when she left a well-paid job after three near work-related breakdowns, she was at a crossroad. She then decided to take a solo road trip, got out of her comfort zone, throwing caution to the wind and embarked on a journey from  London  to Scotland. She spent six weeks driving through single track roads, journeying up and down winding roads, boarding ferries and leaving ports  in her blue 1970s VW T2 campervan named Charlie.  Throughout her trip, she only had  her Cheshire cat Kenny as her travelling companion. Kenny is an eighteen-month-old British silver Tabby who lives with her at her London flat.

Before Janey set out on her solo road trip, she did some careful planning on the essential items that  she would need  while she was on the road. In her words,

As a producer, I knew that a successful event needed great planning and every great producer knows that you need a spreadsheet to plan’.

As a film producer who loves  spreadsheet, for the first time Janey was ‘going to go off grid with no plan, no spreadsheet.’

To begin with, she first had to get a crash course from her mechanic to learn about changing  tyres and all the basics about the maintenance of a motor vehicle. She  videoed her mechanic  as he talked her through the parts of the engine that she should keep her eye on.  

They had to ‘comb through the engine paying extra attention to the fuel pipe, oil, the coil, spark plugs, and so on’  

‘“So, Janey, if the van ever breaks down then it’s going to be down to two things: fuel or electrics,” he explained.’

The mechanic also lent her some tools including his breaker bar and ended their session by

saying, “If you ever get into trouble then call me. Anytime… anywhere!”

Next  it would be about packing light so as to allow her and her tabby enough space to live in a small van for six weeks.

She muses,

‘ I’ve never been one for travelling light as I believe it to be prudent to have options for all occasions, but I knew that space would be of the essence and therefore essential items only would make it into the van. ‘

She managed to pack all her essentials and methodically arranged  them into six categories, including food for Kenny, her snacks and she had dedicated one drawer to Lycra for her cycling trips.  She muses,

For some reason I had imagined myself looking rather glamorous whilst on the road so I packed some lovely floaty, pretty things. The kind of things I would have worn in Cannes. Obviously, none of these items were even unpacked as I pretty much wore the same four pieces of clothing which were washed, dried and worn on repeat. Cut-off jeans, full length jeans, t-shirt, fleece. ‘

Janey  had also downloaded some mega Spotify playlists for different moods and occasions. It was a 2,471-mile drive, so it was certainly no easy feat. Her words could fly off the pages as you read about  her enthusiasm and joy when she found herself meeting  many kind souls along the journey.  She also made it to the HebCelt music festival in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.

Janey had done something most people will never get the chance to do. When she first had her heart and mind set on working in production company, she had  aspired  to change the face of the British film industry. She is unconventional and follows her instincts  when  pursuing  her creative ambitions.

 In her words,

‘I now knew I was courageous, I was tenacious, I was a free spirit and a survivor. I even succumbed to the fact that I might even be a little bit brave! I had let my demons go and let true beauty in. But most of all, I was a loner and proud of it.

This journey had started as a midlife crisis. But after spending 40 days and 40 nights in my van, with my favourite stripy four-legged friend in my little blue house on wheels, I knew that I had undoubtedly had a midlife-affirming, midlife-changing adventure that had changed me for ever.’

She tells us  about how she came to coin her parents as Max and Pax and how she had started off with only three O levels. She was not daunted even though  the nuns at  the Convent school  that she attended in Manchester  told her  that  she was: “thick and lazy and would never amount to anything.”  She had dyslexia and that was not recognized in the 80s then.

In her narrations,

I’ve tended to make choices that nestle between my comfort zone and panic zone. It’s only there that real excitement, nerves and fear collide and it’s only there that magic can happen. Having said that though, nothing dramatically ‘magical’ has happened in my life and I haven’t ‘made it’ in the traditional sense, but, for me, I’ve pushed some boundaries and I’m proud to say that I’ve achieved more than I ever imagined and have no regrets. I reckon that’s magical enough.

Anyway, the idea of ‘making it’ is totally subjective and you don’t need to have climbed to the pinnacle of your career ladder, banked millions or brushed with fame to have made it, though social media would disagree. Nor do you need to have sailed the oceans solo or walked around the world barefooted raising money for charity to feel a sense of achievement. Most of us are pretty normal and fight our own fight for happiness and contentment in our own courageous way. 

Janey de Nordwall is a free spirit and her resolve is awe-inspiring. The writing is splendid for its narrations contain her introspective reflections about her beloved parents,  experiences and ventures that  are peppered with self-deprecating humour and most of all embraced for the author’s adventurous spirit.

I remember my failed attempt at spending a night at campsite somewhere in New South Wales. I had not been able to withstand the cold  sleeping inside a tent and also the discomfort of spending a night in the outback even in my twenties. I am really glad that I have received an advance electronic copy of the book for free but the review is entirely my own.

Nordwall ’s travelogue brings back memories of the whiskey trail  to the highlands in Inverness that I  made with my husband,  a friend  and his son several years ago. It was a trip taken  sometime around  April  2012. It was a short vacation nonetheless it was a memorable one. Here are some photos that were taken then.

Highland Cattle 

 Scottish Highlands
                                                                        Inverness City Centre 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

A Perfect Sunday

If you ask me what  my perfect Sunday is, it would be a day I can binge read whatever fictions that I want to read. But for the past few Sundays I had not been able to read leisurely without feeling guilty due to my work. Amidst some urgent work that had to be attended to, I read The Circle by Dave Eggers and Ghosts by Dolly Alderton.

The Circle is a dystopian novel written by Dave Eggers.

Mae Holland is a young graduate and with the help of her good friend, Annie Allerton,  she lands herself a job at the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company. Annie, her good friend from college is the senior executive at the Circle. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, designed with  open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, cozy dorms for employees and a model  image of modernity and technology. The Circle links users’ personal emails, social media profiles,  preferences, their payment systems, banking and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity known as TruYou — one account, one identity, one password, one payment system, per person for the rest of your life online. Ty, born Tyler Alexander Gospodinov was the first founder who had first invented the system. ‘Ty realized he was, at best, socially awkward, and at worst an utter interpersonal disaster.’ So just before the company’s IPO, he hired Eamon Bailey and Tom Stenton,  with them on board, the IPO raised $3 billion. Ty is then free to float, to hide and to disappear.  TruYou is Ty’s innovations but Eamon and Tom who have the business acumen  monetize the innovations. The Circle has changed the internet, in toto. It is about  a new age of civility and transparency where the general public willingly and enthusiastically surrenders the right to privacy. Exchanges are based on social media smiles and frowns (likes and dislikes). With their innovations of SeeChange, lollipop-sized, wireless, real-time video cameras that can be placed anywhere around the globe, ChildTrack microchips that can be embedded in the bones of children, the Circle reigns over data tracking in the name of transparency and eliminating crimes. “ All that happens must be known”, “sharing is caring”, “privacy is theft” and “ secrets are lies” are the  mottos  of the company. In order to get votes, the Circle becomes popular with politicians and in reality , the company’s true intentions is to complete the Circle by making membership and subscription to the Circle mandatory so you can track people from cradle to grave and their lineage.

At the Circle, all employees are expected to be social and they are being profiled according to their personal interests and  preferences which are openly shared between colleagues. Life at the Campus is not only about work, there are  always parties that last through the night, famous musicians playing one the lawn, sporting activities, clubs, brunches for employees to participate for free. Mae finds that not only she gets full medical benefits like everyone else, even her parents’ health insurances are taken care of. As the story progresses,  she is really sold all those concepts that are being developed by the founders and the team. Mae adapts quickly to the fast-paced work culture and environment filled with constant barrage of screens that demand her full attention, she becomes the voice and public face of the Circle who films and record every aspect of her day.

When it becomes apparent that The Circle has become  uncontrollable, Mae, will perhaps, learn too late that the Circle cannot be stopped. She is confronted with a choice to make known the Circle’s true intentions and her power to support or undermine its vision.

Due to her willingness to participate in all the ever-expanding programmes for openness with SeeChange cameras around her parents’ home against her parents’ will, they decide to move away and Mae becomes estranged from her own parents to whom she used to be close. She also angers her ex-boyfriend, Mercer who does not need unsolicited help from Mae who is eager to show him how he can expand his business through the Circle. He tries in every way to flee from all the surveillances but Mae’s competitiveness  will not stop her from trying to convince him to surrender to the tools.

The fiction was published in 2013 and  it  is about the near future. Its theme is akin to what is depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four written by George Orwell. Looking at how technology advances, the story in The Circle is not  far removed from what is happening today. We need to think about  the ramifications of the development of such  tools and what these tools might implicate on democracy, privacy and free will. Is it necessary to overshare information when not everyone is equipped with the resources and the ability to analyse let alone verify these information?

Identity is as much fluid as it is  personal. I shudder to think about living in a world where you are constantly being watched and you are compelled  to be on your best behaviour or a behaviour that is regarded by the rest of the world  as normal behaviour. Who gets to be the judge? Can you relax when you walk around knowing that you are being watched through a hidden camera at every minute of the day? Tools and new technology are invented with the best of intentions but when ambition, vanity and monetary gains are in the mix, those with the means and power will make use of the tools and technology to further enrich themselves and become even more powerful and continue to reign and dominate while the rest of the world try to keep up with fast growing technology and our minds made up for us leaving us hardly any options but endeavour to navigate ourselves through ever changing digital landscape.

Sunday, February 21, 2021


 I read Time Must Have a Stop written by Aldous Huxley last weekend. I was thinking how timely it was that I began  reading this book as another birthday was here. There are times I wonder if I could have made another career choice or if I could have lived elsewhere or if I  could have made better use  of my time instead of whiling away my time predominantly daydreaming. I am inclined to be indecisive, quite often with hindsight, I should very well stick to the first idea that I had  because the more I deliberated, I ended up with all that chatters in my mind  and then I digressed, made a snap decision  and it somehow departed from what I had thought I would have wanted. Life has mostly kind of fallen into place by default but  some part of it turned out to be contrary to what I had not wanted.  I ended up doing exactly  what I had told myself I would not do or would not have it. Since you do not have ideas about what you want or unclear about what you want but only have ideas about what you do not want, so you get what you do not want, that is the irony. Perhaps  it was just typically a trait of mine for having the tendency to change my mind due to lack of  self-possession at the time? It is never easy to know who you are, if you think about it. You must first acquaint with yourself and know your strengths and weaknesses. Never mind about dry skin, greying hair though I must admit that it bothers me and I miss my natural hair colour. I only keep up with some minimal beauty regime,  even then I need to allocate time for  moisturizing my skin and applying facial cream and mask. Not that I was ever athletic or sporty while I do enjoy hitting tennis and the occasional scuba diving, I am beginning to feel that I need to do more stretching and pay attention to all those muscles. I definitely need my solitary time for reading, as time never seems to be enough. 

Anyway looking back you cannot help thinking you could have believed in yourself a little more and not easily affected  by opinions of others just because they did not approve of you. Maybe you could have done  it a little differently. But then why does it matter? We are just passing through, whatever we do, we are just passing the time though we should make it all worthwhile. What happens to my belief about everyone has their own timing just because once upon a time someone I dated chided me for lacking the sense of urgency?  Birthday happened to fall on everyone’s birthday according to Lunar calendar. It is the seventh day of the Lunar calendar. With all the kind and well wishes, I feel blessed indeed.

Time Must Have a Stop is a coming-of-age story. The story is straightforward but not the contents, which is scholastic and full of intellectual and philosophical reflections about humanity, literature, politics, faiths, technological progress and society. The narration begins with a vivid description of the protagonist, Sebastian Barnack with his pretty looks, cynism and self-centredness as a seventeen-year-old. All the characters are well portrayed and the dynamics and conflicts between them are well narrated. Sebastian is on bad terms with his socialist father, John Barnack who is a barrister. His barrister father is   ‘ not only a great cook (though he had the utmost contempt for those who cared about food for its own sake ), but also a great desk-tidier, a great mountain-climber, a great account-maker, a great botanizer and bird-watcher, a great letter-answerer, a great socialist, a great four-mile-an-hour walker, teetotaler and non-smoker, a great report-reader and statistics-knower, a great everything, in short, that was tiresome, efficient, meritorious, healthful, social-minded. If only he’d take a rest sometimes ! If only his armour had a few chinks in it !’  Sebastian feels aggrieved and angry with his dad because whatever the father makes at the Bar, he gives all ‘to Causes, movements, suffering individuals’ but he will not spend on suits and dinner jacket for Sebastian.

During summer vacation, Sebastian escapes to Florence to be with his uncle, Eustace who lives a hedonistic lifestyle to the distaste and disapproval of John. Eustace tells his nephew, “And  never put it off till tomorrow the pleasure you can enjoy today.”  During Sebastian’s  time in Florence, he meets his   distant cousin, Bruno Rontini, a saintly bookseller and  his uncle’s  mother-in-law and stepdaughter. There he  also makes some mistakes and is unable to own up to them. He gets away with things partly due to his charm and his talent in writing poems. Fifteen years on, we learn that through the influences of his uncle, Bruno  and  family members who love him, he becomes a better version of himself in the process and has also reconciled with his anti-fascist and humanitarian father.  

There is a death during Sebastian’s stay in Florence and it is one of the significant characters. Huxley is very descriptive in describing about the heart attack that causes the death. Huxley is also very hilarious in describing how the character who is an atheist discovers that death is not the end. Eustace’s  eighty-six-year-old mother-in-law, Mrs Gamble still travels to Europe at her age. She hosts a seance and communicates  with the dead  through a medium. She is  authoritarian  and  a snob.

From the epilogue, we know that years have passed by, it is  1944 when Sebastian is thirty-two years old, and has lost a hand through combat. Sebastian has turned out fine. He is a playwright and  living off the money that he has earned from the play that he wrote five years ago. He makes random notes in his journal about his thoughts about the cosmic order and he decides to read them on the first day of the year.

Here are a couple of the quotes in his journal.

Victims have long memories – a fact which oppressors can never understand.

Democracy is being able to say no to the boss, and you can’t say no to the boss unless you have enough property to enable you to eat when you have lost the boss’s patronage.’

If you say absolutely everything, it all tends to cancel out into nothing. Which is why no explicit philosophy can be dug out of Shakespeare. But as a metaphysic by implication, as a system of beauty-truths, constituted by the poetical relationships of scenes and lines, and inhering in the blank spaces between even such words as ‘told by an idiot, signifying nothing, ‘ the plays are the equivalent of a great theological Summa. And, of course, if you choose to ignore the negatives that cancel them out, what extraordinary isolated utterances of a perfectly explicit wisdom!

Sebastian keeps thinking of these lines from Shakespeare’s Henry IV.

But thought’s the slave of life, and life’s time’s fool,

And time, that takes survey of all the world,

Must have a stop.’

He muses,

Mind is nothing but a tool for making tools ;controlled by unconscious forces, either secual or aggressive;the product of social and economic pressures; a bundle of conditioned reflexes.

‘ For, obviously, if mind is only some kind of nothing – but, none of its affirmation can make any claim to general validity. But all nothing-but philosophies makes such claims. Therefore they can’t be true;for if they were true, that would be the proof that they were false. Thought’s the slave of life – undoubtedly.’

Life’s time’s fool. By merely elapsing time makes nonsense of all life’s conscious planning an scheming.’

The title of the book derives from the last clause : time must have a stop.

Sebastian further muses,

‘ And not only must, as an ethical imperative and an eschatological hope, but also does have a stop, in the indicative tense, as a matter of brute experience. It is only by taking the fact of eternity into account that we can deliver thought from its slavery to life. And if it only by deliberately paying our attention and our primary allegiance to eternity that we can prevent time from turning our lives into a pointless or diabolic foolery. The divine Ground is a timeless reality. Seek it first , and all the rest -everything from an adequate interpretation of life to a release from compulsory self-destruction – will be added.’

In Time Must Have a StopAldous Huxley put forth his philosophies through the spiritual journey of his characters. It is an excellent read.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Love Happens


I recall how I used to go to the General Post Office in Sydney to make a phone call home on the eves of Lunar New Year when I was not able to be home for the festive season. I  would collect sufficient coins to place a call that lasted only several minutes. I could not have imagined that when my daughters were away three decades later, I could reach them via skype or FaceTime wherever I was so long as I had my smartphone that was loaded with data or where wifi connection was available.

In this information-overloaded era where everyone owns a smartphone, every update is one click away if you own a smartphone. What is important now is to make sense of information and process them, differentiate between misinformation and reliable information. I find that it is equally important to make it a point to stay away from our phones to give us the headspace that is much needed every so often.

While I appreciate the convenience and efficacy of electronic communications, I miss how I used to be so very pleased to see the postman in anticipation of a letter from my favourite pals.  It was often sheer joy to receive letters or postcards from friends and acquaintances.  I would study the stamp, cut it out and soak it in water before gently removing it from a scrap of the envelope. It was such a delight to receive those handwritten letters and pen my replies to them. I would marvel at the handwritings of the senders. When I was seventeen going on eighteen, I must have fallen for the writing of this boyfriend and his voice as he used to send me letters and cassettes with a recording of his voice messages. My heart sank when I met him again at the airport, I wonder what happened. It might have been all that giddiness in preparation for my study abroad and leaving home for the first time that had clouded my judgment at the time.

To quote Nora Ephron :

I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.”

Amidst all my multiple reads, I usually like to pick up a rom-com for a fast and fun read particularly in these disorientating and challenging times.

Would like to Meet written by Rachel Winters is a charming story.  It is certainly a delightful read painted with  a vivid description of the café and places around London as the story unfolds. It definitely reads like a movie script. The protagonist, Evelyn Summers is young, conscientious, quirky and a workaholic. She is known to her friends as Evie and while she works in London, away from her close friends in Sheffield, her hometown,  they stay connected via JEMS (Jeremy, Maria, Evie, Sarah ) WhatsApp chat group. The story begins with Evie going to Gil’s café in South London and she hopes to experience an amusing or charming first encounter that leads to falling in love just like in romantic comedies. She is actually doing it to save her job as an assistant to Montgomery, the TV and film agency that is in danger of closing shop if their star client, Ezra Chester does not deliver the film script within three months.  She needs to get Chester to write the rom-com script. Since winning the Oscar for his movie script, Chester has been hailed one of the hottest talent in Hollywood but  Chester is arrogant and conceited, he has not produced another script for Montgomery. Now he has a deadline to meet as some producers have commissioned him to write a rom-com, a genre that he scorns at.

Evie’s friends and her call Ezra NOB ( Number One Boychild). NOB is suffering from a writer’s mental block as he does not believe in meet-cutes. She has to convince Ezra aka NOB that one can definitely fall in love just like how it happens in all the meet-cutes in the movies so she sets out enacting or creating credulous meet-cute scenes with a hope to find romantic love. In that process, Evie embarrasses herself but she does find love in the unlikely places but rather predictable for the readers. As she challenges herself through all the meet-cutes and churning out reports to Ezra with a view to inspire and help him in finishing the script, she learns about who she is and what she really wants in her life. She realizes that she has spent seven years working three persons’ job with hardly any social life, doing everything her boss Monty asks her to do without complaint. She finally begins to stand up for herself more, becomes empowered  and come into her own person.

Would like to Meet by Rachel Winters is packed with hilarious and outrageous situations that Evie lands herself in but the characters in the story are credible. Evie has supportive and fun-loving friends who warm your heart and amidst all those outlandish meet-cute situations that have gone awry, she finally finds her love. It makes me want to watch When Harry Met Sally, Notting Hill and the likes again. In the meantime, I have far too many good reads and time is precious, watching these rom-coms again will be the perfect escapade when I badly need one.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Magical Journey

Where the Light Begins  is a memoir by Christy Elmendorp who shares her intimate and courageous journey in finding out how she wants to live her life.

Elmendorp writes,

While I have always longed for freedom, there was equally an innate desire for me to belong.’

The statement says it all, it is the kind of conflicts that most of us must be struggling with.

Most of us follow rules, do whatever we have been taught and told since young ; we religiously fall into steps with what our elders have done because we find it easier to obey or that we think it is safer that way. We do not want to disappoint our loved ones for fear of not being loved , we try to live up to social norms because we are afraid of falling behind or falling out with the rest of our families, our tribe or community if we do not do as told. Students who do well at school are commended upon and those who excel at the universities are applauded and sought after by top notch employers when they graduate. It is apparent that these high achievers individuals look set to earn big money and succeed in life and perhaps even be the envy of the rest of their pack. But there are fearless individuals who follow their own inner voice, question, quest and venture into less known or unorthodox paths as they journey through their lives. Naturally we must know that not all brains are meted out equally, we need to have enough self -awareness to find out for ourselves what we are made of , our strengths and our weaknesses.

Where the Light Begins is about a woman’s courageous journey in finding where she belongs and more importantly, who she is. In her memoir and travelogue, Cristy begins with narrating about her childhood and growing years first with her own family and then with a Christian sect called The Family in Bucharest. Christy’s father who was a missionary was of Indonesian and Dutch descent and her mother was an Indonesian Muslim thus Christy’s parents’ union was not straightforward due to cultural and religious differences. Since young, Christy struggled with what her father believed in. She spent her adolescence years living with ‘The Family’ in Bucharest when her parents separated and subsequently returned to her family when her father settled in Thailand. She shares her personal experience in first growing up with a Christian discipline and then at aged twenty-one, she left home with Ian, aged forty-seven an academician and travel writer who was very much into Eastern philosophies, Buddhist teachings and spiritual practices.

Christy  was restless and though she was uncertain about what she wanted, she was eager to adapt and please her father and later on her partner, Ian in assimilating into their respective lives. She lived a fairly comfortable and adventurous life with Ian in Katmandu. ‘ His house is a celebration of indigenous culture and perhaps also an indication that making money in a foreign currency allowed you to live above average in Nepal.’

 Christy had always wanted to further her studies and had felt that her intellectual level was not on par with Ian and his circle of friends. After having putting it off for a few years, it was then she finally decided to take the entrance exam for entering the varsity in the Netherlands and after passing the exam, she studied English literature. 

She finally began to find her own ground unlike previously, in her words,

‘ I had grown dependent on him to look after us financially, and Ian had become dependent on me as one would with a personal assistant. I would help book his travel, oversee the house construction in Koh Samui, and fill my days with basic errands such as laundry and grocery shopping.

Due to her unassuming nature, Christy met fascinating and eclectic people and had the most amazing globe- trotting life living in Phuket, Koh Samoi, Kathmandu and travelled through exotic places such as Western Tibet, Myamar, Thailand, Vietnam and learnt about Buddhist teachings. She was always curious and open to new learning experiences. Her life seemed like a magical ride as she experienced different ways of expanding her consciousness including DMT, LSD, and also learnt about meditation. She had also been in the audience with the Dalai Lama. Christie is free-spirited, intuitive and eager to learn.  

In her memoir, she refers to the Flight of the Garuda.

What is freedom?
Why do some of us fight for it relentlessly And others give it away so freely?
Can one ever find true freedom?
Is freedom found in the moments between the cracks of thoughts when time stops? Is freedom found in joy
when your heart feels vibrant
and alive?
Is freedom found in nature
when far removed
from an unnatural rhythm?
Or is it in death,
something we can never be free from, that is perhaps when true freedom starts?

The writing is prolific and easy to read but I find the earlier part of the narration a little confusing in the beginning. Elmendorp‘s growing years are unorthodox and you will be drawn to her account of what she has encountered and experienced in the spiritual realms.

I like this statement in her book : ‘Randomness or fate, one thing I learned is that truth has a sound. It is a silent vibration deep inside your soul that only you can hear. And when you heed that call, no matter how crazy, an opportunity for magic happens.


Elmendorp‘s story affirms what Jiddhu Krishnamurti said :’ Truth is a pathless land.'

WHERE THE LIGHT BEGINS a seeker’s journey for Truth, Freedom and a Place to call Home by Christy Elmendorp is a fascinating memoir.

I received an advance review copy of the book and I have enjoyed reading it. The review is entirely my own.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Voyage du tableau

Art is a language on its own and paintings exist as a form of storytelling. Art translates life and transcends cultures without words. Throughout history, extraordinary artwork and paintings by fearless creative souls live on to enchant, intrigue and inspire us about humanity and tell us about living and social structures in the past.

A Book Review

L'Origine is a historical fiction about L'Origine du Monde, a controversial piece of artwork that has elicited conflicting emotional responses whenever it is presented. The scandalous artwork by unorthodox Gustave Courbet continues to court attention and passionate responses from spectators and viewers. In L'Origine, its author, Lilianne Milgrom who is an artist and painter herself shares her personal experience and journey in discovering and learning about the secret past of the painting and the art scenes that spans from nineteenth- century till present.

L'Origine written by Lilianne Milgrom ( picture ) is a historical fiction about L'Origine du Monde, a controversial piece of artwork that has elicited conflicting emotional responses since it was first created in 1865. The scandalous artwork by unorthodox Gustave Courbet continues to court attention and passionate responses from art afficianados and viewers.

Lilianne Milgrom who is an artist and painter shares her personal experience and inspiring journey in investigating and discovering the secret past lives of the painting. In her book, L’Origine, she takes us through history on the journey of the controversial iconic vulvic portrait. Milgrom narrates how the portrait had to remain hidden for more than one and a half centuries. The painting also changed hands between several art collectors and travelled through continents since it was first created in 1865.  L’Origine du Monde is presently perched on a wall in the Musée d’Orsay ( Orsay Museum) in Paris.  

L'Origine traces the secret journey of the controversial art piece beginning with the description of the art world in the nineteenth-century back when thousands of hopeful young artists migrated to Paris every year but very few succeeded. Gustave Courbet was ambitious and intent on taking Paris by storm and he did with the mantra that his dear grandpapa had instilled in him “ Walk tall and shout loud”. ’Courbert was the realist master of art. To the distaste and in defiance of the preference of the Parisian elites, he portrayed  ‘downtrodden peasants from his village engaged in the gritty prosaic act of burying one of their own’ instead of ‘insipid, bucolic scenes of the peasants frolicking gaily in perfectly manicured  landscape.'

Courbet’s artwork was considered immoral and unacceptable by the standard art salon in Paris at the time. In 1865, one winter day, Khalil Bey,  an art enthusiast, the Ottoman diplomat who hailed from Constantinople ( Istanbul) commissioned Courbert to do a piece of painting after viewing Courbert’s Venus and Psyche. That marked the birth of Courbet’s modestly sized L'Origine du Monde that portrays a woman’s torso and genitals. The painting has stirred controversy for almost two centuries and continues to elicit debate about the conflicting attitudes and emotions that the painting would evoke. Lilianne is very detailed and imaginative in putting forth a fascinating historical fiction that spans from 1865 -  2014 and across continents. 

Lilianne Milgrom was born in Paris, grew up in Australia and presently lives in the United States. In 2011, Lilianne became the first authorized copyist of  Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World). She managed to produce a near-identical copy of Courbet’s masterpiece. In her book, she describes how she was transfixed and spellbound by the painting that she found herself approaching the reception and applied to become a copyist for L’Origine du Monde at the Orsay.

The author muses :

The experience of copying L’Origine had left me feeling stripped and exposed, yet oddly empowered.’

Aside from copying the painting, Lilianne spent almost ten years researching on the background and motivation that inspired  Gustave Courbet to paint The Origin of the World and why the eccentric perspective and who the model was. Lilianne Milgrom's language is visual. This is how her adventure began.

As her children had flown the nest and with her husband away more often than not, she refused to hole up in her studio in Washington, DC and lament about the passing of her youth. In her words, ‘trying to come to terms with the somewhat abrupt realization that I’d reached an age that qualified me as a “ woman of a certain age” and with that came looming prospect of diminishing sexual appeal – a most unappealing thought. I was not prepared to take this injustice lying down and had begun to examine the subject of sexuality and aging in my studio practice.'

 It then dawned upon Milgrom  one morning that 'Paris, the city where French men still wax lyrical about octogenarian Brigitte Bardot,  would be the perfect place to pursue the subject  as Napoleon himself remark : “ Give a woman six months in Paris, and she knows where her empire is, and what is her due.” ' 

Despite being classified as a woman of a certain age, through her perseverance, she found  the mysterious Madame G who would offer her artist residency on the outskirts of Paris. Alors she was all set to get the creative juices flowing in her seven weeks’ sojourn in Paris and realize ‘her youthful fantasies of the artist’s life in some seventeenth-century garret on the Left BankLilianne Milgrom has certainly embarked on an adventure. I enjoy reading her animated and humorous account of seven weeks spent in Paris as a copyist for the painting L'Origine du Monde at the Musée d'Orsay. She concludes in her Epilogue, ‘You taught me to be fearless in my art and to follow my heart. And you proved to me once again that art speaks a universal language.

L’Origine is an excellent read for readers who are interested in European art and history.

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