Sunday, February 21, 2010

6. El Caso de las Chuches Misteriosos

I promised to read a Spanish book outside of class, so I did! Okay, it's a book for second-graders, but you know what? It was great for my Spanish reading level. I wouldn't have picked it up, but my "intercambio" (language exchange) partner got it for me from the library.

I'm glad I read it, because it made me realize I need to practice reading Spanish like I practiced reading English. I can't start with the great literature overnight. I may be an adult, but my Spanish level is probably below that of a Spanish-speaking six-year-old. So, I must read accordingly, however uninteresting, I could feel my Spanish reading skills improving. This was about a little girl who decides to leave sweets in her neighbors' mailboxes anonymously and when someone else starts leaving anonymous poems, she investigates.

You may see more of these, please don't laugh! I don't know if I should really count them or not, but this was the first one and I was proud!

7. Lights of Bohemia by Ramon Maria del Valle-Inclan

We read this play, in English translation, for my Spanish Literature course. It was printed side by side with a Spanish translation, so whenever the English got too colloquial, I looked over to the other side to get an idea of what was really going on.

These fifteen scenes occur over the course of a night and morning and the last three scenes over the next couple days. Maximo Estrella (Estrella meaning star, he is nicknamed Mal-Estrella, or in the English translation, Ill-Starred Max), is a bohemian Modernist poet (these terms get thrown around a lot) turned old, blind, and poor. His "friend" Don Latino constantly praises him, all the while taking him out to bars and bleeding him of any money he has left or could hope to gain. Some proletariat protests occur while they are out, Max gets involved and briefly jailed. Eventually, Don Latino takes Max home only to leave him to die in the cold on the doorstep of his home. Obviously, this is supposed to be a nuanced reflection on the bohemian life, it just feels highbrow and cold. It's hard not to sympathize with Max, on the other hand, he seems to bring trouble on himself.

The play feels stereotypically Spanish; pessimistic and devil-may-care. I didn't much enjoy it, but as a representative piece of Spanish Modernism and the period leading to the Spanish Civil War, I'm trying to get interested. I'll see what my teacher says next time we have class.

8. Tongue by Kyung Ran Jo

A novel in translation, this time from Korean, I expected to like more than I did. The protagonist is a cook whose boyfriend has left her, who works through her depression, finding solace in her cooking, and culminates in a glorious act of revenge. It sounded fascinating, but unfortunately there's not more to it than that book jacket description.

I enjoyed the discussion of food, but the protagonist-narrator was way too preachy and forceful with the food/love/sex metaphors. Really, you can be more subtle with that. We get it. It was too sparse for my taste, I guess. It could also always be the translation, partly at least. There were delicious detailed hints and then no rounding out of characters, not enough explaining of relationships. I understood what happened in the end, but man was it boring and anticlimactic the way it was written. I hate to say it, but in the hands of say, Nabokov, this could have been a really good novel. In Kyung Ran Jo's hands, it has a lot of information about food and it's a great revenge fantasy, but it's just kind of...flat.

Friday, February 12, 2010

5. The Alhambra by Washington Irving

Though I began before my own trip to Granada, I just now finished reading Irving's collection of observations and legends associated with the Alhambra. I found much of it amusing, though I think I find it more difficult to read online. It strains my eyes and obliges me to stop earlier than I otherwise would and wait longer periods between readings. There is no help for it though. It's too convenient and travel wise.

Irving describes his journey to Granada, his miraculous invitation to stay there in, his wanderings, the lowly inhabitants of the palace and the town, and records the tales related to him of legends, mysteries and magical happenings that occurred in the Alhambra. Irving brings the place into a dreamy life and manages to make his stay there sound almost as romantic as the lives of its more famous inhabitants, the Moorish royalty. When I went to the Alhambra, I searched for the places of which Irving had spoken, and saw some of them, the Court of Lions for example, though I wondered where the garden of Lindaraxa was and which was the princesses' tower. The real value of the place, though, is in the stories.

Irving's visit may sound better than mine, but had I stayed as long as he did, I'm sure I could have waxed just as poetic. Nevermind that I would have to stay at an expensive hotel, whereas he got free rooms in the dilapidated palace. The place and time of legend and romance is always the imagination, and so Irving's Alhambra is almost more essential than the place itself.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Granada: The Alhambra

On my way to the bus bound for Granada, I realized that I had forgotten to change my camera's batteries, and it had been running low for quite a while. With regret, I decided to save it for the most important sightseeing only: the Alhambra. Unfortunately, this meant the camera was acting up, and converging with the facts that I am not the best photographer even in the most conducive circumstances, and that our tour guide was rushing us, I did not get the kind of pictures I wanted. However, my memory serves me well, and these will just serve as a shadow of a reminder.

I also visited the Catedral in Granada, commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V in 1521, and the tombs of Los Reyes Catolicos, Isabella and Fernando, in the Capillo Real (Royal Chapel), the first thing they built after the conquest of the city.

In my opinion, Granada has probably the most interesting and significant history in all of Spain. It was the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain, under Moorish rule from 711 until 1492. Shortly after Isabella rode triumphantly into Granada, she called for Christopher Columbus and granted him the funds for his historic voyage. The jewel box from which she is said to have taken the jewels to fund the voyage is on display at the Capillo Real, along with Fernando's sword and other effects of his. Their daughter Juana la Loca (Juana the Mad) is buried with them there, along with her Habsburg husband Felipe I.

I loved Granada. I loved the Alhambra, which was originally a city of seven palaces built by the Moorish kings and enclosed within the walls of the fortress. Now, only three palaces remain, much of which are reconstructed, but I beheld it first at night, shining with enchanted light, as we went to attend my first flamenco show. That also was amazing, I felt the spirit of duende, there was something so personal and visceral in the stomping and clapping of the dancers.

I have been reading Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra, so the legends were not all new to me, and I tried to identify the places he talked about, though it was difficult due to aforementioned rushing. We did see the Court of Lions and the rooms where he stayed. I wish I could have the time to ramble about the Alhambra as he did.

My pictures are mostly of the old palace, dating from the tenth century, my picture of the fountain in the Court of Lions is lacking lions, since they are being restored, and the picture of the building in the water is in a courtyard of the judicial palace, dating from the thirteenth century. The white palace is the Generalife, garden of Allah, the Moorish royals' summer palace.

4. Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card

I spent the past couple days visiting Granada and my friend kindly offered this to me to read on the bus! I read Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead a couple years ago, and while I'd heard great things about the Bean split-series, I never got around to reading it.

It was so satisfying! I wouldn't go so far as to say it's better than Ender's Game, but it's definitely on the same level. I never imagined that Bean's upbringing was so different from Ender's, or really anything that I learned about Bean from this novel. In this book, we get to see the imagined Europe of Card's futuristic world. It is immeasurably bleak and brutal, but the scary part is how realistic it feels. This nightmare is where I think Card does what he does best; evoke all the evil impulses of humanity and represent them in a childish society. No matter that these kids are impossibly young, survival is survival. Survive or die, in the world of Bean's childhood.

When Bean does get to Battle School, his point of view and decisions are very different from Ender's, though no less brilliant. In fact, we learn that Bean actually is smarter than Ender, he's just less physically fit and a less charismatic leader. Knowing this changes the way you understand Ender and the interactions between Ender and Bean

There's plenty of set up here for later books, and the latter half of the book dealt with some plot a little too quickly, but you're reading for the characters and complex depravity of Card's imagination. Shadow of the Hegemon is next, don't know when I'll get to it, but I intend to.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Castillo de Santa Barbara Take 2

I walked back up to Castillo Santa Barbara by myself on the past lovely Saturday morning, and these better pictures are the result!