Thursday, January 12, 2017

Bonjour Paris

Title:  The Paris Effect
Author:  K.S.R. Burns

Je vous presenté Amy la protagoniste du livre : The Paris Effect. She lives in Phoenix and she is a domestic goddess. She cooks tortellini with the pasta she makes from scratch, she irons napkins and she sews, knits, crochets and even macramé. But she is restless. Her best friend, Kat has recently died from cancer. Her marriage is at a standstill and she wants normalcy, a solid life that would stick all the raggedy bits and pieces of her together and keep her brain and her soul from flying apart in one big messy gooey bang.  

Here are some fast and fun facts about Amy:
(1) Amy is wary of excess weight as she has been fat once when “everything is puffed—knees, ankles, wrists, elbows, fingers, toes." Thus she is on a perpetual diet. She has many rules about dieting. Rule number one : Fidget as much as possible as fidgeting burns calories. Rule number two: 'Nothing tastes as good as feeling skinny feels' and the list goes on to include rules such as ‘Abstention is easier than moderation’  ' Feast your eyes first'   et cetera et cetera.

 (2) She is 29 years old and married to William who is addicted to jigsaw puzzles, a math whiz, a gourmet cook, an aeronautical engineer and a planner. It was a short gun marriage. William is a numbers nerd while Amy is a word nerd and she likes lovely tangible objects, art , clothes, architecture and furniture.

(3) She has been laid off and  she volunteers at the local library on certain days during the week.

(4) Since her layoff , she has asked for ten dollars cash back at the grocery store and five dollars cash back at the dry cleaners every week and she stashes them away. William is OCD about keeping tabs on finances and she cannot explain about the cash that she stashes away. She has to either spend them or burn them.

(5) Books and words are her obsession and she likes to make stuff. Paris is where she dreams of going.

There is The Plan. Before Kat died from cancer, she and Kat had hatched a plan to travel to Paris without William. It sounds totally insane, hiding from her husband her secret plan. Amy has been hoarding fives and tens in a Tupperware container behind the cookbooks and that is the money she is going to use for her escape to Paris.

The Plan provided amusement, diversion , release and comfort throughout Kat’s illness when she went through with Kat her first and then second mastectomy and  the rounds of  chemo and radiation. Kat is dead and she leaves Kat a video asking her not to put things off and she must go to Paris as this is some place  Kat has always wanted to visit.

While Amy can sneak away when William is away for a work trip, the only snag with Amy’s plan is William’s phone calls. When away on business, William tends to call Amy numerous times a day. So she  needs to find a way to control the telephone calls. Before Kat died, they guffawed loudly when they talked about The Plan. Armed with two hundred tens and one hundred ninety-six fives, which comes to two thousand nine hundred eighty dollars ,will Amy make it to  Paris when William is on a work trip in New Jersey? The French is known for  their  cuisines, how is Amy going to enjoy Paris when she is on a perpetual diet ? It is an escapade. What is Amy running from?

The Paris Effect is written in Amy’s voice. I can resonate with the passage:

My favourite way to begin a  book is to let the book decide, to let the book say, Here is where you need to be , here is where you belong. Because books can always be depended on . Books are more reliable than people. Don’t shake your head. You know it’s true.’
Excerpt from the book The Paris Effect
“Something to drink for you, madame?”
The flight attendant smiles even though I am easily the two
hundredth person she’s said this to.
“Um. Sparkling water, please,” I say.
I am on an airplane.
I am being addressed as madame.
I am implementing The Plan. Without Kat. Without William. With 
only myself. Because this morning after watching Kat’s video four more times I went to the spare bedroom that William calls a nursery, unzipped the outside pocket of Kat’s stillpacked carryon, the one that smells like lemon verbena, and found an envelope with two blue plastic cards inside. “Okay,” read the enclosed note. “It’s not a fancy presentation. But these are airline gift cards. One should get you to Paris. One should get you back. Now you have no excuse. Go! Hugs, Kat.” 
The next hour went by like a bag of M&Ms. It took only twenty minutes to locate a flight on Air France, LA to Paris, and to redeem the cards. Fifteen to reserve a spot on Alaska from Phoenix to LA. The hardest part was writing a threeline email to the Hôtel du Cheval Blanc, chosen long ago as a nottooexpensiveyetideallylocated place to stay. Finally I clicked on Send, grabbed my wallet, hopped in the Honda, and vroomed off to Costco for the ribs. A reply from the Hôtel du Cheval Blanc was waiting when I got back. “You have chance, madame,” it said. “We happily have a cancellation for the nights you name. We would be pleased to welcome you on Monday next.” 
And now I am on my way. I take a deep breath through my mouth, because my nose is still completely plugged up, and survey my realm. My carryon is stowed in an overhead compartment across the aisle, my tote bag is stuffed under the seat in front of me, and my money belt is strapped under my brand new skinny jeans, which are way too tight. But the skinny jeans are mandatory. They are part of The Plan. 

Just twentyfour hours ago William and I barbecued ribs together on the patio. He ate heartily but said little. I too was mostly silent, unable to think about anything other than my reservation on Air France and my packed suitcase and the fact that ohwowohGodI’mactually doingthis. 

The Paris Effect is a truly enjoyable read. At some stage, there is suspense and it keeps you going and you simply want to keep going even after it reaches the end . A fascinating ride for both Amy and the reader. An adventure indeed. I cannot wait to read the sequel about Amy.clickhere

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


The Catcher in the Rye has been sitting on my bookshelf for decades and I finally read it last week. After reading it, I know why I could not engage myself in reading it in my 20s even though it was a book much raved about by my circle of university friends then. The story is about Holden Caulfield, an angry and lonely teenager who keeps dropping out of every school he has been sent to. He has just been kicked out of Pencey Prep, a boarding school in Agerstown, Pennsylvania on account that he has not been applying himself and has flunked four subjects and the only subject that he has passed is English. After the Christmas vacation, he will not be returning to Pencey, a school that has a very good academic rating.

The book is written in Holden’s words. He is only sixteen and he is already struggling with growing up and figuring out meaning of life. Holden has a gentle heart and he is sensitive and kind although he rants about how all these friends and teachers he has encountered at school are such phonies and he uses the words ‘phony’ and ‘jerks’ and swears profanity quite a lot. He gets upset when he sees how fake people are. The story spans three days during which time he went to  the movie and there was this woman sitting next to him cried all through the picture.

The part that got me was , there was a lady sitting next to me that cried all through the goddam picture. The phonier it got, the more she cried. You’d have thought she did it because she was kind-hearted as hell, but I was sitting next to her, and she wasn’t. She had this little kid with her that was bored as hell and had to go to the bathroom, but she wouldn’t take him. She kept telling him to sit still and behave himself. She was about as kind-hearted as a goddam wolf. You take somebody that cries their goddam eyes out over phoney stuff in the movies, and nine times out of ten they’re mean bastards at heart. I’m not kidding.

Holden is   generous. He lent  his roommate Stradlater  his jacket  even after finding out that the latter was going out on a date with Jane Gallagher, a childhood friend whom he likes a lot. He was asked by Stradlater  to write the essay that the latter had to pass up the next day. He was supposed to write something descriptive about a room or a house. He ended up writing about his brother Allie’s baseball mitt.

My brother Allie had this left-handed fielder’s mitt. He was left-handed.The thing that was descriptive about it , though, was that he had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he’d have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up at bat. He’s dead now. He got  leukemia snd died  when we were up in Maine,on July 18,1946. You’d have liked him. He was two years younger than I was, but he was about fifty times as intelligent. He was terrifically intelligent. His teachers were always writing letters to my mother, telling her what a pleasure it was having a boy like Allie in their class. And they weren’t just shooting the crap.

He loves his younger sister, Phoebe very much and he is very protective of her innocence. Phoebe is really smart and she’s had all A’s ever since she started school. When she asked him to name one thing he liked, all he could think of were the boy who jumped out of the window at school and the two nuns with suitcases and he had sat next to them waiting for a train. They are teachers, one teaches English while the other one teaches History and Government.

Holden is sweet as he thinks about the ducks  that swim around the lagoon in Central Park in springtime and he wants to know what happen to them in the winter-time when the lake turns into a solid block of ice, whether they get picked up by someone who comes around in a truck or go south. When Phoebe asked him to name something he would like to be, he  wanted to be the catcher in the rye. He was referring to a poem by Robert Burns when he had thought it was a song and his clever sister corrected him. He had thought the words were “If a body catch a body coming through the rye" when the words were “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.” Again old Phoebe corrected him.

I thought it was “ If a body catch a body”,’ I said. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around-nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’ re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and  catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy , but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be . I know it’s crazy.’
Old Phoebe didn’t say anything for a long time. Then , when she said something, all she said was, ‘ Daddy’s going to kill you.’

Salinger’s seemingly effortless writing has cleverly described the growing pains  of Holden Caulfield who is disillusioned and feels depressed thinking about how hypocritical, pathetic and mean many people are.  I was hesitant to  read The Catcher in the Rye probably because  I  did not want  to read  about teenage angst and another one of those coming of age novels  when  I had felt a lot of it in my secondary school days. Since I was twelve, I had kept a journal where I had expressed those angst and I intend to destroy it soon.  I  did not want to be reminded of any of that.  As 2016 was winding down, a friend sent me a link entitled thirty superb books you should read before turning 30 and The Catcher in the Rye was one of Though  I had owned some of those books before I turned 30, I have only read a couple of them (now three)  and I do have every intention  to read them at some point of time.

The Catcher in the Rye is absolutely brilliant and I am truly glad that I have finally read it, thirty years later. If I had read it before I turned thirty, I would not have appreciated the book and the character would not have touched me  as much as now. 


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Smell the Holly and Bon Courage

New Year fireworks 2015 London
The aspirations that I have set for myself during the previous year and the twelve months preceding the last twelve months and also the twelve months prior and  earlier  on will  once again make it to the list of  resolutions for 2017.

It has been five years since I started blogging , the year my girls left home for their further studies. I still have not mastered the art of posting as often as some bloggers that I follow.

Often much time is wasted on dilly dallying as I can be indecisive about  many things. I have cut down on commuting unless absolutely necessary as these days traffic is horrendous. I could use the time for reading printed books or articles on line. I have a tendency to read the articles  that are sent to my inbox. Welcome to the era where our  sense of community is not only the place where we live in, it is also on the websites that we visit often.

On the last day of 2016, I finished reading The Return of the Young Prince written by Alejandro.G.Roemmers and translated from Spanish by Oliver Brock. The award winning artist, Pietari Posti  has been specially commissioned for the illustrations that accompany the story. It is a tribute to The Little Prince whose author has good reasons to believe that he hails from the asteroid known as B612, a planet scarcely bigger than a house.

No longer content with his tiny planet, the young prince once again sets off to explore the universe. It is the story of the road trip taken between  the little Prince and the narrator who has found the former as he drives down a lonely road in Patagonia and takes him on a journey. Once again the young prince has questions about humanity just like when he was the Little Prince and asks the narrator incessantly and the latter answers him arduously and patiently.
As Roemmers narrates his story, he includes his thoughts and reflections.

How is that possible ? Is reality on this planet not one and the same for all men?” asked the boy, surprised.
‘Perhaps the total reality itself is one and the same,’ I mused, ‘but we can only perceive as much of it as our consciousness has evolved to perceive, according to the strength of our senses. When we sift out of that total reality a few ideas,facts and people that we agree or disagree with, in truth all we’re doing is reflecting our own image.’
‘ Do you mean thta people never actually come face-to-face with reality, but only with themselves reflected through that reality?’
‘ That becomes pretty obvious when you look at just how limited our senses are, and that’s proved by machines that can capture sound waves at frequencies so high or so low that our ears can’t pick them up , or microscopes and telescopes that multiply our field of vision. But we don’t always understand as clearly that observing our own environment and the things that happen to us is one of the best ways of getting to know ourselves, because everything in the outside world that affects us demonstrates that we aren’t in harmony with the corresponding principles within us.’

‘ Why do you say things in such a complicated way?’  he complained.

Roemmers gets the message across to everyone who reads the book that we must open our eyes, our senses and most importantly our hearts and develop purity. Have trust in our ideals and become aware of our being and live with a purpose.

In the story, the narrator tells the young prince :
“The way I see it,’ I replied,’ to live is to learn. The more our consciousnesses develop, the more easily we can distil the inherent meaning out of the things that happen to us . Sometimes the pains and illnesses we reject are the ones that could bring us the greatest spiritual riches. That’s why, whatever that gives you the opportunity to evolve. Fate always finds a way to make us learn the things we resist the most, the things we least want to accept.’

Though the book gets a little preachy and moralistic at some point of the story, it definitely reminds us of the values we should always carry with us as we go through life. The magic for the Little Prince cannot be recreated.Nonetheless The Return of the Young Prince  is charming and  a joyful read. It is a tribute and not a sequel to The  Little Prince, the heartwarming fable by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Once again we are reminded of the famous quote from The Little Prince.
On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
One  can  see clearly only with the heart.