sexta-feira, agosto 26, 2016

The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch

I like to read books about life and death experiences, and this one seemed interesting. It is interesting, and somewhat uplifting - a celebration of life by a man who is doomed to die in a short time, of pancreatic cancer, and that leaves this collection of life lessons to his kids. I couldn't but empathize with the author's words - he lived fully a good life, he seemed like a really nice man and most of his advice is sound and sensible.

Yet, I couldn't help but think: "how American he is!". All the positive thinking, the sharing of his dire situation, the help groups he and his wife belonged to, it's really such a different reality from ours. It always impressed me how in the American culture people like to have everything so neatly organised and labelled - if you have cancer, you go to cancer supporting groups, if you find your son is gay, you join a gay men's mother's group, and so on. Also the use of therapy and counselling for all kinds of problems, in the optimistic belief that for every problem there are professionals who know better and that can help you deal with it. Of course there's nothing wrong about that, and if it's helpful, I guess people should go for that. But it's so different from my own individualistic approach to life and its problems, I never believed there to be neat labels and formulas to deal with problems and suffering.

Anyway, the book is a nice read and uplifting. And I heard about the project, that seems very interesting, I think I would like to explore it, maybe it will be a way for me to learn something about computer language!

terça-feira, agosto 23, 2016

Dynasty, by Tom Holland

I always loved the history of the Roman Empire in general, and the Cesar dynasty in particular. I've read it so many times, since I, Claudius to Suetonius, Tacitus, Cassius Dio and even Colleen McCullough, and I never get enough. So, I was curious when I read a positive review of Dynasty in the Times Literary Supplement, and I ordered it right away.

I thought it would be a history book, but it's more like a fictionalized history; the author bases his narrative on the known sources but surmises a lot, namely regarding the personalities of the main characters, and often the events themselves. Even so, it's an extremely interesting and enjoyable book. The author clearly loves its subject, and he comes at it with gusto and passion, and the whole book reads almost like a page turning thriller. What I found most interesting was the way the author weaves the story of the Cesar dynasty in the Roman history and Roman mores, the depiction of the transition from the Republic to the Empire, so the part from Augustus to Tiberius is the most well achieved, in my opinion.

All in all, a very good book about the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

sábado, agosto 13, 2016

The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz

I like dystopian novels, I think they're a clever way to depict present problems in a way that makes us think: what if it was lie this? The Queue is a very good dystopian novel, in the tradition of 1984, Brave New World or The Handmaid's Tale; it's clever and thought provoking. The kafkaesque absurdity of the totalitarian rule of a faceless dictatorship is extremely well described, as the struggle to keep leading normal lives under extreme circumstances, which is something I always find fascinating. The grim situation in Middle Eastern countries is indeed impressive, and one cannot but wonder how the sane people there can cope with sheer everyday insanity.

domingo, julho 31, 2016

Everything to Lose - Diaries 1945-1960, by Frances Partridge

This volume of Frances Partridge's Diaries is far less interesting than the one before, mostly because Bloomsbury, without Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry and Maynard Keynes, became less and less interesting. Even so, I always liked to know "what happens next" in any story, so I'm curious to know what happened to the minor Bloomsbury characters, including Ralph Partridge etc. Besides, Frances herself had a keen and observant mind, her narrative is interesting in itself, as are many of her reflections and small portraits. So I don't think it was a waste of time to read it, and maybe I will still check the next volume.

quinta-feira, julho 28, 2016

Voss, by Patrick White

I heard about this book from one of those "best books list" in some newspaper, and I was curious since I had never heard about its author - even being a Nobel laureate - and I love Australia and always like to read about places I love. I was surprised by this book. The writing is extremely beautiful, intricately convoluted, full of images that convey the feelings of the characters in a most emotional way; the story is impressive, somewhat depressing, like watching an inevitable disaster, like a train wreck, and not being able to change it in any way. One is left wondering, what really did drive explorers to such terrible voyages? Was the call of the unknown that powerful? I have been in the Australian desert, it is so big and overwhelming that left me speechless. It's beautiful and ruthless, fascinating. It makes one dream of the Outback, the red earth and spinifex.

segunda-feira, julho 11, 2016

At the Existentialist Café, by Sarah Bakewell

I read somewhere a review of this book, which made me interested, especially considering that I was fascinated by the existentialists in several times of my life. I didn't even notice that the author was the same of the excellent How to Live about Montaigne, which would have been an even stronger recommendation. And I was very glad I ordered it.

I first read La Nausée very young, I don't think I understood much, but the book left me a very lasting impression, I could never forget the sense of nausea, of a kind of detached feeling of disgust for the meaninglessness of things, of being; it wasn't an elaborate idea but it was an enduring feeling. Later, I read Mémoires d'une Jeune Fille Rangée, and I was bouleversé, Simone de Beauvoir spoke to my late adolescent self in such a meaningful way, it helped to bring sense to my growing pains and from then on I was hooked. Then L'Âge de Raison literally changed my life in a very personal way, with its concepts of freedom and commitment. From then on, I devoured many of Sartre's and Beauvoir's books, liking especially Les Chemins de la Liberté trilogy, her memoirs and Les Mandarins. And I yearned to live a life like that, talking, smoking and drinking at cafés with interesting people, living a truthful and uninhibited life.

I'm older now, and less romantic, namely about the smoking and drinking part of the café life, but I'm still an adept of the existentialist philosophy, that revived in a way the stoic and epicurean thinking, since it concerns life - how to live, how to feel meaningful and alive, how we are what we choose to be, and in that way we question ourselves, the eternal questions "what am I doing here?", the name I gave this blog. It's a philosophy of man and life. It's not by chance that Sarah Bakewell also wrote about Montaigne, that indefatigable questioner of life and how to live, and her book is extremely informative and insightful. She manages quite successfully to explain the origins of the existentialist thinking, and gives a very clear picture of Husserl's and Heidegger's ideas - at least for me, since I've never felt like reading them. Her affectionate and lucid portraits of Sartre, Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty and others are engaging and interesting. I mostly agree with her about Sartre - a fascinating man that was so many times enormously wrong in his political choices - and Beauvoir - whose memoirs I also consider one of the most fascinating and insightful depictions of her times. The character of Merleau-Ponty was a surprise for me, I had only known him from Beauvoir's memoirs, and he comes out from this book as a real philosophical hero.

And yes, I also think people are so much more interesting than abstract ideas, and that the true philosophy is the on that makes us question how to live.

domingo, julho 03, 2016

Brittany in Spring

Like Proust - extensively - says so better than I could ever wish to, all places are for us first of all names. It's the name that we come across somehow - through a book, a movie, a television show, a tale from a friend or relative - and then we dream about the image it evokes in our mind, the idea we create of the place, intertwined with what we heard or read about it. Most of the times, the idea is quite different from the reality, but unlike Proust, that doesn't usually lets me down, much the opposite - the differences I find and the unexpected impressions I get are always a source of delight and one of the reasons why I always love to travel. I remember how surprised I was to be stunned by the Venus the Milo's beauty, I had seen it reproduced countless times and I thought it would be just a tick on a check list, but the real thing's beauty is unreproduceable, as so many other works of art and, much more, places and landscapes, are.

So, for me Brittany was at first the setting of the adventures of Astérix, then of Corentin and where the French corsairs came from; later I loved the stories of druids and megaliths and the Arthurian legends, then there were several exciting Arsène Lupin's cases, and the bande dessinée of Bourgeon. Of course, what I found was very different, but it was anyway mingled with the evocation of those memories - besides, all this preamble is mostly to try to convey how I choose my travel destinations.

We started our trip in Nantes, the historical capital of the Duchy of Brittany, even if today is not administratively part of Brittany. It's a very nice city; not stunning but very pleasant and it seems to be very liveable. Some nice historical buildings, lots of pleasant squares and lively cafés, terraces by the Loire, lots of young people. We visited the cathedral and the castle of the Dukes of Brittany, strolled along the streets and squares of the city centre, the beautiful Passage Pommeraye, the bank of the Loire with its terraces and the modern sculpture Les Anneaux. We also had our first taste of the Breton galettes de sarrasin, accompanied with cider in bowls, a dish we loved and ate everywhere during the trip. And to top the Nantes experience we met an internet friend from there who was an excellent and informative guide.

The girl at the car rental was called Tiphaine - another evocative name: Tiphaine Raguenel, Bertrand Du Guesclin! There are real girls called Tiphaine. We drove to Rennes, the capital of the Brittany region. It's smaller than Nantes, more beautiful - our first sight of lots of old timber framed houses. Again, an imposing cathedral, lively squares and café terraces - and of course tasty galettes! - the big Place du Parlement de Bretagne, and bilingual street signs, with the Germanic Breton language that unfortunately I didn't hear anyone speak (there are not many Breton speakers left).

Le Mont Saint-Michel - another magical name! It is an impressive sight, rising from the sea on the horizon of a green and golden plain with placid sheep grazing. It was getting late in the day, so we felt we didn't have enough time to visit it at leisure - and the busloads of tourist weren't exactly encouraging either - so we just contemplated it from the shore, in all its gothic fairytale splendour. I hope I will visit it properly some day, preferably in winter, it must be quite a sight in bad weather.

On the road to Saint-Malo we passed Cancale, a beautiful seaside village, a little reminiscent of our Sesimbra, with the bluest sea and shining like a colourful jewel under the late afternoon sun.

Saint-Malo - another magical name: the corsairs, Corentin, Chateaubriand! We stayed at a small hotel inside the walled city. Very touristic, but still evocative of its adventurous past, the walls are impressive and the small islands with its fortresses are beautiful - among them the Grand Bé with the tomb of Chateaubriand (I remembered his text detailing how he chose the place). We also sau the tomb of Jacques Cartier in Saint Vincent Cathedral - lots of Quebecois flags around the city, as well as the austere Breton flag with the ermine queues.

After Saint-Malo, Dinan, another beautiful walled city with a small castle, old timber framed houses and a beautiful romanesque church. There is a statue of Du Guesclin in a big square, and the city centre still reminds one of the Hundred Years War. And we had more tasty galettes in a nice and shady café terrace.

We took the coastal road and passed through Ploumanac'h, a nice beach resort in the pink granite coast - so named on account of the colour of the granite boulders. The weather was sunny and the sea shined blue. We then went inland, along the landes, rough flattish moors of shrubs. We stopped at Morlaix for a beer and a dinner of - guess what? galettes! - and went on to Quimper.

Quimper is another small Breton city, with timber framed houses, a canal, and a beautiful cathedral. One could think by this time we had had enough of these cities, but far from it; they're all different and each one has its peculiar charm.

From Quimper, we went to Carnac - menhir country. Hundreds, thousands of menhirs. One cannot but wonder why they should have assembled there so many big erect boulders, but then one remembers it was Obélix paying for a favour to the ancient owner of the field, and it becomes clear. Anyway, it makes for an eerie and somewhat nostalgic sight.

Concarneau is a small fishing town, with a little walled part, very touristic, full of shops selling Breton staples as kouign amann and kouignettes - a very buttery pastry.

We finished our trip in Vannes, yet another beautiful town with the usual timber framed houses, cathedral, cafés, galettes, and a nice marina.

I really enjoyed the short taste of Brittany I had - I would like to linger at that coast, take long walks along the cliffs and just laze in a long-chair with an ice cream under the mild Breton sun. And we didn't even have any rain! (Brittany is famous for its rainy weather all year long). I love France and its language so much, and the people are so much nicer outside Paris -
they were always kind and willing to help with directions and such. I look forward to go back.