Saturday, June 30, 2007

Justice, sham trials, and the like

NOW READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

This isn't really where I was expecting the book to be going. I was kind of surprised at what happened at the trial. I also kind of feel like we as readers are in the swirl of it all along with Miss Quested. And pray tell what does her name mean, allegorically? I've been meaning to ponder that.

But mostly I'm now struck (and amused) by the fact that here comes yet another little lawyer/trial snippet of life for me to ponder and examine through the prism of having gone to my first year of law school and blah blah blah.* While it of course briefly reminded me I never want to be a lawyer and all that, it also made me remember that the world is really messed up and it's not just the lawyers, and I didn't spend the whole time reading that chapter thinking law schoolish thoughts. Yay!

*yes, even I am thoroughly bored with my newfound gazing at everything through the 1L prism

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hot to trot

NOW READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

I totally want to go to India. I want to go now. I didn't realize how now I want to go until just, well, the other minute as I was idly flipping through my book. I am aware that India is an enormous country and there are so many different regions and things to see that the statement "I want to go to India" doesn't really say much. But that's not the point. It'd be like saying "I want to go to the United States." People have said that. Then who cares if they meant only New York or something? So there's a lot of India to see. So? So I want to start seeing it.

I really am itching to go there. And I want to go for a long time and see as much of India as I've seen of these ol' United States, which could take years, I realize. Recently Brian and I have been amusing ourselves counting how many of the 1000 Places To See Before You Die we've been to. I've been to 43--and a good deal of those are in the U.S. My well-traveled-in-the-U.S.-ness serves me well. In fact, there's a sequel out which is 1000 Places To See Before You Die - USA and Canada and I'm well over 100 in that one.

But back to India, which is big and has many places to see and has not been visited by me. I want to go there. And you know another thing that excites me about India? It's hot. I like hot. In A Passage to India they are all talking about the Hot Weather. The Hot Weather is a-comin'. Mrs. Moore wants to leave India now that all the drama is happening after the disastrous cave visit and everyone's like, "But you can't travel during the Hot Weather." God, I can't think of anything more delectable.

And I like all different kinds of hot. I of course grew up in the dry heat. Just last night I was talking to some random people about dry heat. Well, they were talking about dry heat and I overheard them and asked where they were from (this was taking place in Manhattan) and they weren't from but had been to Las Vegas and they asked where I was from and then we talked about Arizona. I love the "But it's a dry heat" nonsense. I loved when some radio station or newspaper columnist or someone was talking about it, too, something along the lines of, "You go to Phoenix, the heat is killing you but everyone tries to console you with 'But it's a dry heat.' Yeah, sure. Guy bursts into flames on the sidewalk--but it's a dry fire!" Ha ha ha.

Remember those August days when you walk out of your air-conditioned house and it feels like someone's turned a hairdryer in your face? Oh, you Phoenicians and other dry heaters know so well what I'm talking about. The great thing about it, is, why do you live there then if you hate it? Why have you built this sterile civilization of air-conditioning in the middle of the desert by diverting so much water from the Colorado River that hardly a trickle is left when it gets to Mexico? In all sincerity, Phoenix as we know it should not exist. I grew up there and I love it, but I think it's kind of cool that mother nature bitch-slaps us with 122 degrees every once in a while.

I like other kinds of heat, too. Tropical heat. Yummy. Swampy delicious. Man, I spent about five minutes in Jamaica (had a layover in Montego Bay) but my entire impression of that place is that it was just hot--unbelievably hot, giving new meaning to the word. And Cuba? Another world. I never felt heat like that in my life. Never before and never since. The sun is closer to you, seriously. And you feel just this glorious sunny heat all the time. Except during the daily torrential rain(most afternoons during hurricane season).

I think the temperature was probably in the 80s (fahrenheit) most of the time I was there, but there was also humidity. It wasn't just about being muggy either. It was about the sun being so close to you it was as if it could reach down and touch you. It slathered its heat upon you. And the tan--sheesh! I returned from there so amazingly naturally tan, and it was gradual from an entire summer of days under that sun, not one fell sunburn swoop. I remember my sister commenting on a picture that happened to be taken of me with a half a dozen or so family members almost two full months after I returned to the U.S. "Geez, compared to Linda the rest of us look like ghosts!" she observed.

So, what's the heat like in India? I don't know. This book stops short (at least so far) of describing the Hot Weather. I'm sure there are different heats in different parts of the country as well (like here in the U.S.) There was one part of this book where Forster wrote of "films of heat" and I found that a delectable description.

I like other things besides heat. I like snow too. I like brisk autumn days. (Spring and I are still working out our issues.) So, why do I get so passionate about the heat? (That's like the heat of passion, only different) (and that kind of supports my case, as no one ever says things are coldly good in idiom! just cool) (too many parentheses) I rise to its defense because people are so mean about it. But I think we're meant for it. Aren't the cradles of human civilization equatorial desert?

"It was early in the morning, for the day, as the hot weather advanced, swelled like a monster at both ends, and left less and less room for the movements of mortals." - p. 219

Nice! You tell 'em, mother nature. You show us who's boss.

Monday, June 25, 2007


NOW READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

So, I can relate to Adela. Witness:

"Then she went back to her plans; plans had been a passion with her from girlhood. Now and then she paid tribute to the present, said how friendly and intelligent Aziz was, ate a guava, couldn't eat a fried sweet, practised her Urdu on the servant; but her thoughts ever veered to the manageable future..." - p. 149

And this ties into another recent realization I had about addiction. People often say things about an "addictive personality." Since I have been addicted to something before for which people feel quite comfortable judging you (cigarettes) I have had that "addictive personality" label slapped on me. I've often wondered what that really means, though. Apart from my endless fascination with my own alcoholism or lack thereof (one of my hobbies is taking the Signs You're an Alcoholic quiz and noting that I'm still not in the danger zone) I wonder if there is such a thing as an addictive personality. I mean, take heroin. I've seen how it wrecks lives. It was very physical. I'm not sure the personalities had anything to do with it.

However, my recent realization was about coffee, which if anything would be my current addiction. (And not necessarily Starbucks, although I am happily, cheekily in the "Addicted to Starbucks" group on Facebook.) Notice I didn't say caffeine. I believe my body is currently physically dependent on caffeine in the sense that I have a cup of coffee basically every morning and will have a headache in the evening if I don't. So that is definitely a "habit." But the addiction part is something more, and it amused me when I observed it about myself. On the day that I moved out of my Hofstra residence I still had a few things to pack in the morning. I was in slow motion, and still awaiting the arrival of my dad with the van, and I told Brian (who was so nice as to help me move, yay!) that I wanted to go get coffee first and then come back and finish packing and that would definitely be the more productive way to go. So we walked over to Dunkin' Donuts and back. I then proceeded to finish packing, efficiently, and I made room in bags and tied up loose ends and so forth.

Then I looked up and saw my Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee on the near-empty desk next to the clock radio and realized I'd drunk all of three sips of it. Greatly amused, I pointed it out to Brian: merely having acquired the coffee made me satisfied and I was able to move on and be productive. Of course I would eventually drink it (so as to avoid later headache) and even enjoy it (mmmm...cream, no sugar) but I had this great insight about what satisfying the WANT meant.

I wonder if this relates somehow to my love for planning. Don't you see how it could? It feeds something in me to make lists and make plans and craft and recraft my vision for the future (and reorder my Netflix queue). But I don't think I need to make plans and lists. I'm not sure I'm any more likely to do the things whether I make the lists or not. But I actually like to do it. And I think this also relates to how healthy it feels to meditate, and be mindful, and get my buddha nature on, and live in the moment.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


NOW READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

Something dramatic is about to happen on their excursion to the caves. And I feel like I'm living in some weird parallel course with this book: I feel sick and unsettled and on the verge of something dramatic, too. This is kind of like when I was dizzy and I swooned in junior English class while we read the part of MacBeth where he hallucinates Banquo's ghost. I don't want to, though. I don't want to be sickened by lingering thoughts of last summer and I don't want to be on the verge of something dramatic. Mrs. Moore is sitting outside the caves because she can't stand a second claustrophobic visit, so she lets Aziz and Adela go on their merry way while she waits. This will turn out to be a mistake any page now. I can feel it.

"The universe, never comprehensible to her intellect, offered no repose to her soul, the mood of the last two months took definite form at last, and she realized that she didn't want to write to her children, didn't want to communicate with anyone, not even with God...For a time she thought, 'I am going to be ill,' to comfort herself, then she surrendered to the vision." -p. 166

Hello. And what a kick-ass description, I must say, of "that sinking feeling."

I just want to know if it's possible that I really could have induced a flashback with all my talk about full circles and coming back from Korea a year ago and the things life brings us. Could I have done that? If I started reading this book and was struck by the expat-in-Asia-ness of it then by dwelling on some twisted nostalgia (for what?) could I have started making my whole month of June into a grotesque replay of last horrible stupid June? Last June of betrayal and lies and me beating my head against a brick wall trying to Figure It All Out? Could I have conjured up the feelings I felt then just by thinking about then? Ewww. And if so, does that mean when I finish reading this book I can close the book on all this flashback nonsense as well? It's so weird.

Aziz has got issues, and I think pretty soon he's going to have a few more. He's trying to please people who don't understand him and whom he doesn't understand. And I don't think he understands why he wants to please them.

"Like most Orientals, Aziz overrated hospitality, mistaking it for intimacy and not seeing that it is tainted with the sense of possession." - p. 157

I relate to that too. Then, and now.

Friday, June 22, 2007

To indeed be a god

NOW READING: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

"'We're out here to do justice and keep the peace. Them's my sentiments. India isn't a drawing-room.'
'Your sentiments are those of a god,' she said quietly, but it was his manner rather than his sentiments that annoyed her.
Trying to recover his temper, he said, 'India likes gods.'
'And Englishmen like posing as gods.'"
--p. 51

Much as I ruminated today on my blog's "front page" I am struck by how we hardly act different at all from people 100 years ago.

The U.S. might have joined the English in posing as gods in various Asian countries, and insisting it's there in justice and peace. And this is still happening! Korea, anyone? Granted, I made two really good friends because of the U.S. army bases there. And there were a lot of bilingual street signs for which I was grateful. But come on. People would actually tell me with a straight face that the U.S. military is there to protect against "the threat from 'The North.'" Seriously. SERiously??

I didn't know why I felt drawn to read A Passage to India, but now I do. What a fantastic reflection on the expatriate experience. I'd like to think the job of an English teacher is far less offensive than that of a civil servant of the occupying colonial force. I'd sure like to.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

This month is bound to happen
or, F to the J to the N to the...

NOW READING: A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

I continue in India. Since I have been a slacker and not posting, I'm starting to accumulate many a folded page and nary a post about them. Tonight I'll try to catch up a bit.

For one thing, this book is wonderfully philosophical out of nowhere, sprinkled in among the paragraphs describing the goings-on of English and Indian interminglings, and done so well that when it goes back from philosophy to the "action," you find you are still philosophizing. Like this: "But she did not take the disappointment as seriously as Miss Quested, for the reason that she was forty years older, and had learnt that Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually. She said again that she hoped that something interesting would be arranged for next Tuesday." - p. 23

Then there is the whole thing where you want to harshly judge the English civil officials for their callous and snobby ways among the "Natives" but you also have a tiny bit of sympathy, especially(?) if you have lived and worked abroad, say, teaching English in a Korean academy where you had daily thrown across your path obstacles that were not insurmountable so much as they were inscrutable. But you feel bad about the judgments you yourself made, too. Like this: "'You never used to judge people like this at home.' 'India isn't home,' he retorted, rather rudely, but in order to silence her he had been using phrases and arguments that he had picked up from older officials, and he did not feel quite sure of himself." --p. 33

Then there are the religious considerations, Moslem, Hindu, lots of lapsed Christians. And now I have a question. During one passage we are invited to ponder the likes of jackals and wasps gaining an eternal reward. And if them, then how about bacteria? And cactus? Are they not loved by the gods? The missionary thinks, "No, no, this is going too far. We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing." -- p. 38 Well, I can add nothing to that, which just about sums up religion right there.

But I'm curious about the early part of that passage because it starts out with the monkeys: "And why should the divine hospitality cease here? Consider, with all reverence, the monkeys. May there not be a mansion for the monkeys also?...he saw no reason why monkeys should not have their collateral share of bliss, and he had sympathetic discussions about them with his Hindu friends." --pp. 37-38

Wow. After years of listening to The Pixies' "Monkey Gone to Heaven" I suddenly find myself wondering where good ol' Frank Black got his inspiration for that line. Could he have been reading A Passage to India? Why not? I hear tell he came up with the hook and those "monkey gone to heaven" words before he fleshed out the song.

Also I cannot let this opportunity pass. I must say that the repeated "This monkey's gone to heaven" of the chorus is one of the best misheard lyrics ever, having once resulted in my favorite "This month is bound to happen." Indeed it is.

Also, for those who care and even those who don't much, though I'm still in F, guess what? I do believe I know who my 'J' author is going to be. A small prize goes to the first person to guess correctly. And I think I know who my 'N' author is going to be as well, although, AHEM, that one appears to have been selected for me...

"Got killed by ten million pounds of sludge
from New York and New Jersey
This monkey's gone to heaven..."
--the pixies

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sky High

I forgot I wanted to say something about the very beginning of A Passage to India, from when he's setting the scene and describing Chandrapore:

"The sky settles everything--not only climates and seasons but when the earth shall be beautiful. By herself she can do little --only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and and so enormous." - p. 5

I thought - what a great way to put it! I tend to be overwhelmed by the sky just in general. Although like everyone else I walk around much of the time forgetting to look up and be appreciative of it. I also stand by my statement that Arizona has the best sunsets in the world and an amazing sky-ness quite often. But I like to gaze out at the horizon wherever I go and let the Indigo Girls lyric "What a blessed sky" run through my head. I am altogether appreciative of the sky. But I had never quite articulated that thought, that it kind of gives the go-ahead to the earth to be beautiful.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Imports and Exports

I have embarked upon A Passage to India. (I never get tired of saying that.) This is exciting for so many reasons. One, I was on my E is for Eco book for nearly two months, and now it's like TGIF - thank god I'm (on) Forster! Two, it was made into an Academy Award-winning film, you know. Three, let's talk about traveling to Asia, shall we?

Sometimes I think my life is a gigantic circle. Other times I know it is. Here I am all contemplating the year since I returned from living abroad, so what better time to read a novel about Westerners in India? A couple of the Englishwomen are discussing whether India really feels like "the other side of the world" or not. I have an amused(television) and an inquisitive(real life) response to this.

First, amusement: I love Designing Women! In this book Miss Quested says she wants to see the real India. "Ronny was in high spirits. The request struck him as comic, and he called out to another passer-by: 'Fielding! how's one to see the real India?' 'Try seeing Indians,' the man answered, and vanished..." - p. 25

Well, how can one not think of Suzanne Sugarbaker? On vacation, prissy Suzanne is the lone voice who does not want to soak up the local culture: "I can assure you that there is nothing around here I want to 'soak up.'" Perhaps you have to know and appreciate the show and the fabulously fun, satirical-yet-hitting-home ways of Suzanne's character (and if you don't appreciate these things, I highly suggest you get thee to your Lifetime and watch some Desigining Women episodes) but it's so fantastic. On another trip, Suzanne elaborates, "I've noticed that whenever people start talking about seeing 'the real' anything, what they really mean is 'hanging out with poor people.' I say, I don't hang out with poor people at home, so why should I do it on vacation?" You see? It's absurd, and shocking, and not politically correct, and doesn't it also ring unfortunately true for so many of us? That, my friends, is the brilliance of Designing Women.

Second, my Korea-induced question to ponder. I never really felt like I wasn't seeing "the real Korea." I mean, it's such a silly way to phrase it, anyway. (I'm with Ronny, in that sense.) We all live in our little subcultures, whether at home or abroad. And we frankly tend to shun The Others no matter where we are as well. So I took refuge in the Commune, my very favorite bar on the planet, where the expats would gather in the low-lit basement pub, play music, meet and greet, launch a what? I also hopped a three-dollar bus to a random town every other weekend, made political connections, and got to know hundreds of children whom I taught. Which parts of that are "real" and "unreal"? What nonsense.

One of my best teacher friends over there hated Korea for this reason: she didn't feel it was different enough from the United States. She might agree with Mrs. Moore: "she too was disappointed at the dullness of their new life. They had made such a romantic voyage across the Mediterranean and through the sands of Egypt to the harbour of Bombay, to find only a gridiron of bungalows at the end of it." - p. 23

Not only did I generally disagree with this friend (then again, I mostly see "similarity to home" as a matter of quantifying the availability of Mexican food, and I used to describe myself as a foreign exchange student in Boston -- from California) but I also wonder if it isn't rather condescending of us to say places are "Americanized." Or even "Westernized." What, like so-called Western Civilization has some sort of monopoly on crappy television, neon, techonology, McDonalds, and the like? Who are we to say that? Now that everyone and their trendy brother eats sushi and does yoga, why don't we say that we are Asia-ized? And don't even get me started on anime and manga.

No, really though? Who the hell are we to say? My experience is that Korea and Japan are so technologically superior to the U.S. it's not even funny. In Seoul I could be three levels underground on the subway and have a cell phone signal, but on Long Island I can't keep one on the Hofstra campus. When I first got there I asked my smug little spoiled adolescent class if they had iPods and they were like, "i-what?" Then they whipped out their phone/camera/mp3 player combos that put us to shame, that every freakin' ten-year-old has. And no offense meant to my Michigan peeps (and besides, my adoring fans all know I love Michael Moore than the lot of you put together) but everyone knows their Toyota runs better than their Ford. I'm not the only one who has come to that conclusion. So why do we think we're so superior?

And why are we perpetually in search of this exotic other, anyway? Would it be so bad if we found more common ground among humanity than differences?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

My foray into bookseller addiction

I think this will be my last random book rambling before I embark upon A Passage to India. But I just came across a list in a box of old papers: handwritten on a sheet of notebook paper is a list of a couple dozen books I read in my first year that I worked at Borders! I even vaguely recall making this list. It's probably incomplete, but I remember after I'd worked there a while noting that I was reading even more than I had all my life (in which life I had often been known as the friend who reads a lot). So I'm amused to look back now at the books I read when suddenly they were all around me and I was touching them all the time, plus I now got a discount.

High Tide in Tucson Barabara Kingsolver --contains one of the best essays ever, about atomic missile facilities in the middle of nowhere in the U.S.
The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck (a Pulitzer winner!)
Beneath Mulholland: Thoughts on Hollywood and its Ghosts David Thomson --this book gave me about a thousand suggestions for movies to see. I remember making that list too, as I went along reading it
Crime and Punishment Dostoevsky
Girl, Interrupted Susanna Kaysen
Angela's Ashes Frank McCullough --a true gem. a must for everyone, bookseller or not.
Snow Falling on Cedars David Guterson --don't bother
The Cider House Rules John Irving
In Session: The Bond Between Women and Their Therapists Deborah Lott
The Living Annie Dillard -- made me think she should stick to non-fiction. made me think *I* should stick to non-fiction.
Echoes Maeve Binchy
Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf
The Common Reader Virginia Woolf
Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in Search of the Guevara Legend Patrick Symmes
Squandering Aimlessly David Brancaccio
Peyton Place Grace Metalious -- sooo good. I'm not even joking.
The Thorn Birds Colleen McCullough --also sooo good. Still not joking.
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee -- duh
The Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood -- didn't actually love this one, but have loved every word of hers I've read since. Her brilliance is unmatched.
The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx
Utopia Thomas More
The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing Melissa Bank -- before there was chick lit, there was this. Would that the shelves had remained that way. Her outfit on the cover is pefectly indicative of how she kicks ass.
What We Keep Elizabeth Berg -- I'd read everything else of hers before I worked in a bookstore. Berg was my treasure; I shared her with my co-workers and every other customer who walked through the door. Then Oprah discovered her, too!
Open House Elizabeth Berg -- this is the one Oprah discovered.
The Edible Woman Margaret Atwood -- and my co-workers shared treasures with me, too!
Tuesdays With Morrie Mitch Albom -- had to see what all the fuss was about. And now I could do that without committing my hard-earned money! Employee perks!

I'm sure there were others; I recall scratching my head even back when I scrawled this list. But this is pretty representative of what I read that year. My taste has improved since then, but there were some good finds.

Remember last summer when I was on a quest to get rid of my earthly possessions -- even the books? I'm sort of losing that drive...

Friday, June 08, 2007

Boys and Girls

FINISHED: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
PREPARING TO LAUNCH: A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
ON THE SIDE: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes/Evening by Susan Minot

Yes, the 'F' author has been selected, although not yet begun. Don Quixote is this year's mammoth book of choice, and how appropriate to begin it now as this weekend marks exactly one year since I left Korea and finished War and Peace on a plane somewhere over the Pacific. But first I have a parting Rose thought.

So, I've been having an argument a discussion about Adso's Kitchen Encounter. Which is to say, he is tempted/seduced/blown away/doesn't really know what's going on by beautiful peasant woman whom Salvatore brings into the abbey, and so despite his vow of chastity he gets to experience this act some monks never experience, and is even promptly forgiven by William the next day. (There's more to it than that of course, but that's not my point here.) So the argument discussion is about whether the whole ideal of an enlightening One Romantic Encounter is male fantasy crap that never happens in real life.

I was saying, how could Adso be so enlightened and wowed by ONE time? That never happens. Needless to say -- or is it? -- I was having this discussion with a male. And as I think about it, I think perhaps my notion that it is "male fantasty b.s." might be wrong. Maybe it's male reality b.s. I mean, there are differences and then there are differences but I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that across the board men are more fulfilled by their initial sexual experience than woman ever are. Without exception.

So, this is interesting and probably old news, but what's newly interesting to me is that I'm currently sort of reading Evening, because the previews for the upcoming film have me greatly intrigued, mostly because I (only half-jokingly) refer to it as "the sequel to The Hours," as I've previously mentioned. So even though I don't want to buy it, I read a chapter or two of it every time I am in a bookstore (which is almost every day) and I'm about halfway through it. And the basic plot is that this woman on her deathbed deliriously recalls a life-changing night back in the day that she has never forgotten, although as she lies there murmuring this man's name all her gathered family members are like, "Who? Who's that guy, Mom?"

The story is told flashing back and forth among various time periods, so I haven't yet reached the climactic moment in the far past. That is to say, they have met and strolled together under the stars but haven't yet had the life-altering One Romantic Encounter, although by all indications they will. And it leaves me thinking -- hmm, this book is by a woman. And it's the woman who is, apparently, altered in this particular story. So, is it that we've been so pummeled by the male fantasy over the years, especially in movies I'd say, that women have bought into it, too?

Ah, but then I forget about romance novels. Mostly because I've never read one. But I have shelved a lot of them, and it sure seems that a lot of women in there can have amazing, mind-blowing One Romantic Encounters as well.

Anyway, I just think it's interesting. I'm really not bothered by it at all. This isn't some call to feminist arms, and it wasn't a particularly heated discussion about Adso. I just think it's interesting that as soon as I tried to determine that Adso's experience was an implausible male fantasy, I picked up Evening and then thought, "Oh. Or not."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

"They ALL did it!"

NOW FINISHED READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

What a book! I highly recommend it and have even already loaned it to one person to read. I have more to say about it, but quickly, here's a thought. A cursory scan just now of a bunch of reviews on Amazon and the like brought me to comments like: "you feel smarter after you read it" or "this book will make you feel your IQ went up a few points." Huh. Interesting. I hadn't really thought or felt like that, and in all the years my literary-goth-pagan-English major-medieval lovin'-philosophical etc. friends have insisted it's one of the best books ever, I've not really heard that comment either. Do you suppose I hang around (and discuss books with) people who are smarter than the average denizen of the world wide web?

On second thought, as I reread that question, I want to answer myself the way William would answer Adso: use your head. Learn to think. The answer is so obvious.

Or is it just that it really is a mystery, really? Even though it rightly hangs out in Fiction/Lit and is not relegated to the Mystery/Thriller shelves (she said, letting her bias against Genre show). And that mystery lovers haven't read as many smart books? (she said, no longer even trying to hide her bias against Genre)

But...but...I still love Clue! That's one of the smartest mysteries ever, too. And with a happier ending(s). I could see William and Adso fitting in nicely at that little dinner party, puzzling out what happened. It's kind of like The Name of the Rose, now that I think about it. They show up to solve one crime and many other murders follow...

" All right, Chief, take 'em away. I'm going home to sleep with my wife!"
-- fabulous last line of Clue

Friday, June 01, 2007

Diggin' up bones

NOW READING: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I've just read of William, Adso, and Nicholas-the-replacement-cellarer wandering through the vault of the abbey's treasures and relics. These include a part of the crown of thorns...a piece of the tablecloth from the last supper...the tip of the spear that pierced the Savior's side...a piece of the actual holy wooden cross. Adso is of course in awe at all these relics and William basically tells him, "Yeah, right."

Now, granted this is a fictional abbey, but I know how it is with the relic-seeking and I just wonder, seriously, why do we believe this crap? Really, though? As William puts it, "And don't succumb too much to the spell of these cases. I have seen many other fragments of the cross, in other churches. If all were genuine, our Lord's torment could not have been on a couple of planks nailed together, but on an entire forest." - p. 425

I thought about how we all do this, really. And not just with Jesus. I mean, we even do it with secular figures. ("Washington slept here!" isn't much different) But what it really reminded me of was when I was in Korea and I went to see the Buddha's finger bone, unearthed in China and conveniently on exhibit in Seoul the first weekend I spent there. I won't even try to explain my actions; you can just have a look for yourself here. Did I really think it was the Buddha's finger bone? These things beg the question, of course, of what I mean by "the Buddha." Like, maybe that really was the bone of the man named Siddhartha Gautama. Even so, what does that mean? And suppose the cross that crucified a certain (quite possibly wrongly) accused criminal was salvaged and a bit of it was hanging out in an abbey somewhere? In which case are we fooling ourselves more, that these are the historical fragments or that they are historic fragments?

Also, "the Buddha" is really not quite right to say. There have been other enlightened beings, a couple dozen buddhas in one branch of buddhism, I think. Even the word "buddhism" is misunderstood by most who use it especially when we come from western religious traditions. Where was I at with Buddhism when I randomly discovered that Buddha's bone was spending the same weekend in Seoul that I was? I guess you can see from my tales of my stay at the Buddhist temple Haeinsa, part one and part two. Maybe I'd describe it as faithful wariness?

Adso is sad and horrified that William doubts the validity of these treasures. Poor Adso. He still has a lot to learn.