Sunday, 30 September 2012

Vintage Penguins - Vintage Flowers- Vintage Love?

The other day I took my scooter around to some of the Op shops to search for old Penguin books. At the All Saints church in South Hobart there is a second hand shop that includes many books. The people there have truly gotten into the spirit of my Penguin collecting and are actively searching for books for me.

I dropped by there the other day and was fortunate to get another 10 books. One of the books was Black Narcissus by Rumer Goden.

This book is a psychological story of a group of nuns working in the Himalayas long ago.  I already have a copy of this book but when I handled it I saw pieces of tissue paper sticking out of the pages.

Of course anyone who buys old books is always fascinated by anything found in these books.  I was delighted to open this book and find 5 sheets of very neatly folded onion skin writing paper with flowers gently pressed inside.

My mind always runs away with me as to what the flowers might represent. Did a young person walk through Hobart's bush settings to sit in the sun with notepaper, pen and a book? But instead gathered flowers?

Was it a girl? Was she alone. Did her beau give them to her?  Was she suffering a loss and finding comfort in the petals? Was she a botanist?

The mind can make up many such stories where books and flowers are involved.  I could not bear to leave this book with its treasures behind so I promptly put it on the bottom of the pile and bought it with the rest of them.

I have placed it in its proper place on the shelf with the other Penguins from that year (1950) and one day someone else will find them and make up their own tale.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Hobart in the midst of a "Blithe Spirit"

Today began Term 3 at University of the Third Age's  (U3A) Play Reading class.  I have attended this class every Tuesday during Term times now for just over a year.  It is great fun. We have a class of between 10 and 15 people on most days and our wonderfully experienced instructor Marlene chooses our plays.

Today she introduced us to Blithe Spirit  by Noel Coward.  This play was written during WWII in England as  Mr. Coward believed the Brits needed something to watch that was escapist and fun.

Today Marlene outlined on the white board how the stage was set up with a Boxed Stage set up.

Noel Coward worked as a British Propoganda officer during World War II and he was also in the secret service. According to Wikipedia it is stated he wrote in his auto-biography that he spent only 5 days writing the play.

At the time the play was produced it broke all records of endurance in London and then the Mousetrap came out and of course that has its own history of longevity as we all know.

Wikipedia also stated that  Mr. Coward based this play on Percy Shelley's poem "To a Skylark" ( "Hail to thee, blithye Spirit!/ bird thou never wert").

Rex Harrison (stock photo)

It was made into a film in 1945 starring Rex Harrison and Margaret Rutherford. It would be a great deal of fun to see this as the play is very funny.

Today we got as far as introducing the characters of Ruth and Charles Condomine.  Charles is a socialite and a novelist. They invite the eccentric medium and clairvoyant Madame Arcati to their house to conduct a seance.  The first act is spent in a discussion about their own pasts, their previous marriages, now both widowed and married to each other and Ruth asks quite a few questions about Charle's first wife, Elvira.

She is not jealous of her but merely quite curious as to what kind of a woman and wife she was. The conversation is very much held with good intent.

They are waiting for their guests, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman to arrive as well as Madame Arcati who arrives on a bicycle and presents as a very eccentric experienced medium. Somehow the words eccentric and medium go together. They all seem to spend a great deal of time as well drinking very dry martinis.

The guests arrive and after a bit of friendly chatter the seance begins.  Madame Arcati is suitably dramatic as she calls forth anyone who may "be out there".  The person who finally comes through from the other side is no other than Elvira, Charles' first wife.  She has just been introduced and everyone in our class is in quite a bit of suspense as to what will follow. However the hour's class was over and we have to wait another week to take up our parts once more.

So far all of us in the class are very much enjoying the humour of the play, Marlene's wonderful narrative about the history of the play is well researched and interesting and we love listening to each others portrayal of the characters when it is their turn to read.

It is a very happy, fun filled class and I will have to report further down the track as to how much we enjoyed it and what we thought of the story so stay tuned now until next Tuesday.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Paasilinna's The Year of the Hare- Finnish Humour?

Last night I finished Arto Paasilinna's humorous book The Year of the Hare (1975). Normally I won't read books that have main characters that are animals because I worry throughout the entire book something awful will happen to the animal.  Ever since I read John Steinbeck's The Red Pony and Anna Sewell's Black Beauty as a young teenager I don't trust literature about animals.

As I need to have an opinion of this book by the first week in October I didn't have much choice so I held my nose, closed my eyes (so to speak) and dove in. The fact that it also applies to my Century of Books challenge helped to prod me along as well. 

This Finnish author's protaganist is Kaarlo Vatanen, a burned out journalist who is travelling home with a colleague who accidentally hits a hare in the road. Vatanen follows the injured animal into the forest and sees it has a broken leg. He splints the leg and together the two of them disappear into the forest.  

His colleague who gets tired of waiting for him drives off, only feeling a bit guilty awhile later.  Kaarlo is tired of the world, his life, his job, his wife and the peacefulness of the forest and the attention of the hare seduces him into disappearing.

Thus he begins a series of adventures during the next year, caring for the hare who has very human qualities and is very easy to get extremely attached to.

He goes through a series of places to sleep, sometimes he comes close to losing the hare, he deals with Russian soldiers who take over his cabin he is living in, he falls in love and becomes engaged whilst quite drunk, he helps to fight fires in the forest and wins over policemen.  At one time a ski instructor who readily sacrifices animals steals the hare and Vatanen needs to find his beloved hare quick smart.

I found the writing to be direct and the characters well developed and quite visual. I have to say I wanted to finish this book as quickly as possible because the characters meet a great deal of hilarity as well as peril and I just knew this book would end badly.  

Was I correct?? Well I won't say. I can't say because I think this is a very enjoyable little fable and I don't want to spoil it for anyone.  

I don't think there is any deep hidden meaning in this book outside of how many of us might feel from time to time when bored with our jobs or nothing interesting is happening in our life so why not take off through the beautiful forests with a hare in tow?

It isn't symbolic as Animal Farm is. It is quite a light book most of the time, the scenery is beautiful, there is suspense in it if you love animals the way I do. It can also easily be read in a single sitting. 

I would suggest the Northern Hemisphere people curl up in front of a fire one afternoon and enjoy this tale and for those of you anticipating summer in Australia find a good hammock in the sun, pour a glass of white and enjoy this lovely tale. 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Bit of a Catch up on Books and Life

As I have been a bit flummoxed since we returned from our travels I could not focus on a book review for the life of me. Have written up Animal Farm twice and have deleted it twice.

While away, travelling in planes and staying in hotels and hostel like accommodation we read quite a few different things. I thought I'd just do a quick summary and as most reads were on the Kindle I will put up a few stock photos as Kindle photos are pretty boring.

The book for the plane was The Folly of French Kissing by Carla McKay. Airplanes call for fluffy books that you don't get lost in the middle of with the countless interruptions encountered.

Judith Hay plays a school teacher in a very proper private school who unwittingly gets caught up in a scandal with a female colleague that forces her to leave. She meets a bookshop owner who falls for her in her new home but he is put off a bit by news of the scandal that she may not be as "straight" as he thinks.  The story, I thought was a bit light on but I enjoyed the characters and it moved me along as I winged it over the very large Pacific Ocean.  A good beach read.  (Thanks Elaine from Random for putting me onto it with one of your reviews. It sounded like a fun read and it was.)

Another fun, predictable read was called A Family Affair by Mary Campsi. The story of a man who dies and leaves behind his daughter and long suffering wife.  The daughter goes to a reading of the will and discovers her devoted father had another family in another state he visited monthly as well as a child who has Down Syndrome.  Of course she must investigate this and finds herself firmly embedded in this new family's life, in love with the brother of the Down Syndrome girl who of course is not her half brother and madly besotted with her new little sister and the girl's mother, her father's long time mistress.  I enjoyed this book simply because it was a happy read with appropriate twists and turns just enough to keep me from falling asleep after a long day being a tourist.

My next book was 22 Brittania Road which came on a disc of free books I bought online from eBay. This was a bit of a dodgy buy as the seller was deregistered by eBay just before the disc arrived. I had a letter from eBay telling me the seller had been deregistered and I would probably not get my item. However, said seller had sent it out to me before his deregistration and I popped the disc into my CD drive to see what books were on it and found I had purchased an absolute multitude of books entitled the Best of 2011 not to mention many other current crime, drama, humorous writings, and classics. Oops. Copyright and all being what it is I thought I'd better not pass this on to anyone else. I was expecting a large haul of copyright free (old) books from Gutenberg.  What I got was a batch of pirated best selling books from this century. What a dilemma. What DO you do?  Keep them? Discard them immediately because of high morals? I surprised myself. I kept them.

But as it goes I will read some of them and ensure I don't pass them on to anyone else. After all I did buy in good faith and I will destroy the disc once I've had a good look at it. We'll leave it at that. Besides the book industry will not suffer as I spend half my life buying books from various sources. (That makes it feel justified.)

22 Brittania Road  by Amanda Hodgkinson was one of the books on this disc and I read it simply because it was on page 1 of the Kindle.  Having no idea what it was about I dived in.  I found it to be an interesting story of a Polish family, displaced during WWII, finding one another again in England where they have settled, coming to terms with the dire secrets of the past of their lives lived separately from each other for several years of the war.

I enjoyed the characters for the most part but the relationship between Aurek, the little boy and his mother got very wearing at times.  I thought the story was excellent, the characterisation was mainly quite good and overall I enjoyed it very much.  But I did want to strangle this child from time to time. I don't cope with whiny children who need to be carried everywhere when they're about six years old.

Next on the list was Animal Farm by George Orwell. After some slightly fluffy pieces of work with very predictable endings Animal Farm brought me back to reality. It is one of those books that we all had to read in high school in Michigan in the late 1960's and we even saw a theatre production, in the round at the same time.  I remember the actor who played Napolean the Pig dancing around on stage. Not caring for it one iota as a 16 year old, I thoroughly enjoyed it now as a (cough cough) year old.
So much has been written about Animal Farm I will not even try to replicate the excellent reviews of it already available.  However the characters were incredibly real, Napoloean the Pig was an awful character I really wanted to make into chops and poor old Boxer the horse had me in tears.  I  don't think this story of  the rich dominating the poor, dictatorship, communism, change, political chaos will ever date and it is as relevant today as it was when Orwell penned it.  I have several copies of this book in my Penguin collection so I hope you enjoy the covers of these vintage copies. I HAVE to get Penguins into this blog!

A book I quite enjoyed but it took me awhile to work out what was going on was Stephen King's new novella, A Face in the Crowd.  A widowed man who misses his wife dreadfully turns on the television day after day to watch his favourite baseball team play and each day he sees a person from his past sitting in the seat at the game behind the catcher.  A story about his experience with that person ensues and towards the end he attends the game and not spoiling the ending it was a big surprise for me. I must have been in holiday  mode because I did not see the end coming.  I would recommend this interesting read.  It is not one of his creepy books so if you have a fear of some of his scarier ones this one is scary in a different way. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I always find King's characters extremely well developed and very able to relate to them.

Speaking of scary reads the next read was The Snowman by Jo Nesbo. A very creepy, scary thriller by the Swedish writer Jo Nesbo.  I have repeatedly heard of this author but not read him.
This one had the hair on my arms standing on end and I was reading it in bright daylight.  Of course there is a serial killer that protagonist Detective Harry Hole must find and each murder is preceded by a snowman that almost comes to life in the vicinity of the murder.

To paraphrase:  At night the young boy looks out into the yard in the dark and the snowman is looking up at him, his beady black coal eyes staring back at him through the window. That after this child's mother has disappeared very mysteriously.

This book is not for the faint hearted but once into it I enjoyed it very much.  Harry Hole is the detective who of course is slovenly, has family members he doesn't quite get on with, always dysfunctional personally but extremely competent professionally even though everyone else on the force wants to get rid of him.  So nothing new in the line of detectives there but the story was a new one.

As we were travelling through three countries of South America and reading a lot in the guides this was about as much as I could muster in the reading department. On the long journey home I chose to watch movies as I was just too tired to read anymore.
I know I'm tired when I watch Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in Pretty Woman for the 14th time.  I love her red dress, I love it when Richard snaps the jewellery box onto her fingers and you know it's going to happen. I love it when she goes back to the shop in Rodeo Drive and says to the ladies who wouldn't wait on her the day before, "You work on commission? Big mistake. BIG!"

I also saw The Godfather for the first time ever. I had four hours left on a flight I really thought was never going to end and I saw The Godfather was 3 1/2 hours long and by then I was praying for anything to take me out of my horribly uncomfortable seat into another world. This did it. I felt like I was dodging bullets and talking with cotton in my mouth watching Marlon Brando in this old film classic.

Now I feel like I am caught up with this post and will start posting up some more serious reviews of books I have put into my TBR pile based on random selection of books owned and listed in my "book" book' of titles to read.

It is also the first weekend of spring here in Tassie and I have been madly scootering in the countryside with friends looking at the beautiful green paddocks, all the lambs racing away from us as we pass and the beautiful blooming fruit trees.  Ready for summer with not an air flight in sight.

(Animal Farm counts towards A Century of Books Challenge- 1945)

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Fabulous Bookshop in Buenos Aires, Argentina

 Today we slept in a bit and then got up to see a wonderfully sunny day. Today was the day we were going to find the El Ateneo Theatre Bookshop. We found the location on the map and headed for the subway. Once off the subway we still had 7 blocks to walk before we found it.

El Ateneo is 100 years old this year. It was established in 1912 as a theatre.

When we walked into it we were in the front section which would have been the foyer. The foyer was a good size and is now filled with books.

The cafe is to the right where the stage once was.
As we continued our way towards the back we walked into the section where seating would have been for patrons in earlier days. The theatre is a bit bigger than Hobart's Theatre Royal but not much larger.  When we looked up we could see the original painting around what would once have been the chandelier that is no longer there.
The painting on the ceiling in the dome.

The stage was straight ahead and is now a lovely, good sized cafe. As we were both a bit peckish and tired of walking in crowded streets we headed to a table and ordered coffees, lemon pies and cold water. All of which were delicious.

After our morning tea, we began to explore the store. It is spread out on four levels. The ground level has most of the books. The foyer in the front has new books, bestsellers and some DVD's.
The view from the cafe.

There is a large children's section at the back of the second level that is colourful and well lit. 

The basement is filled with CD music and more DVD's.  There are stands where one can listen to various music through headphones if interested. We enjoyed the music that was currently being played.The basement has escalators going to it.

From the ground floor (called first floor in the Americas) we went up carpeted stairs to the second floor. It is a circular mezzanine area with the children's section at the back over the cafe/stage.

The third floor was set up the same with classical music, opera and other choral pieces for sale.

There is also a small photography gallery of  beautiful black and white photographs of the well known actors who performed previously in the theatre.

There are some glass display cases set up with some of the theatre memorabilia items in them.

One of the things I really enjoyed were the boxed seat areas where all of the important people would have previously watched the stage performances. There are three levels of boxed seats on both sides of the stage that have been made into little reading rooms. A couple of them had small tables set up where one could hold a meeting or small get together.

People are able to go into the boxes through a door they can then close and sit in comfortable chairs to read in privacy.

We spent more than an hour in this store and thank goodness all of the books were in Spanish so I was not tempted to buy any which has always been a weakness of mine during past travels.

Walking into this store is like walking in to a cathedral without having to hear any sermons or feel any guilt, unless the Spanish population spend too much on their books, which would be very easy to do as all of them are beautiful.

We have been reading Kindles for the past 5 weeks so it was wonderful to be amongst  "real" books again.  It is certainly a store I will never forget.  It is almost enough to make me want to sign up for Spanish classes in case I ever come back to this store again.  Long may it last.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Exciting South American Penguin Find

Continuing our Buenos Aires, Argentina adventure today Tom and I decided to try out the subway near our hotel to head over to the Ricoleta area and large cemetery where Eva Peron is buried. There is also a very large market near the church and cemetery that is supposed to have many local crafts and we thought we could pick up souvenirs there.

The subway was very easy and cheap to use and we were in the area in no time. We still had to walk quite a few blocks and as the weather is beautiful and warm today we didn't mind that at all.

Buenos Aires is described as the Paris of the Southern Hemisphere and it really is a beautiful city.

Just as we were preparing to cross the last street, with the large cemetery walls in view we stumbled across a book shop of second hand books.  I stopped so suddenly that Tom almost knocked us over by bumping into me. It was just an involuntary reflex that he is becoming more and more used to as we travel.

 We went in and I had a quick look around and was about to leave as everything was in Spanish. I decided to ask the owner if they had English books. "Ingish?" I said, "Downstairs" he replied.  I stuck my head out the front door where Tom decided he would wait and I said, "I am going downstairs, they have English books there."  Tom knew he might as well come in then and get comfortable.

I went down the staircase into a small room and written on the shelves was the word "Literature",  Only a Penguin collector knows the slight twitch one gets when being in a second hand English section of a book shop with the word 'Literature'  facing them.

I walked straight to the shelf and suddenly saw a very old Penguin logo.  It was the logo of the Penguin that looks as though he is dancing sideways. My heart stopped as I didn't recognise the binding of the book. It was not familiar. Also it was not in English. 

The spine was also a bit more than an inch thick which is also unusual. Penguins are generally thinner. I pulled it off the shelf and saw it was in Spanish. I also saw the number L 1 on the spine.

It turns out it is a copy of "PINGUINO: Breve Historia De La Literatura Inglesa" translated to "Penguin :  A Brief History of English Literature" by B. Ifor Evans. It was originally published by another publisher in the late 1800's but this first published copy was published by Penguin Books England in conjunction with Lautaro of Buenos Aires, Argentina Publisher.

It was published in 1947.  I was excited to find it because when I think what South America must have been like in 1947, with the conflict, coups and development of so many of the countries on this continent, I think it is wonderful that people, most likely academics would have a copy of this book that survived.

I am assuming the L 1 stands for Lautaro series and this is book 1.  I am really going to have to sit down and read all of the Penguin reference books I have at home and see if South America is mentioned anywhere. The book is only 246 pages long but the quality of paper is interesting. The paper pages are very thick  and it has browned quite evenly through most of the pages especially at the front and back of the book.  It also had a very browned index card tucked into it with the author's name typed on it and the name of the book and the publisher in Spanish as well as the date 1947 in brackets.

The cover is decorated in green and white diaganol stripes with a very old Penguin logo dancing facing to the right. The penguin logo on the title page is standing upright, head held high, facing to the left.

The whole book's binding is sewn with a thread that runs through it and exits into two threads inside the back cover page and the whole binding including those threads are glued down. A couple of the early pages are loose but nothing is missing.

If anyone reading this post knows of any other information regarding Penguin Book's history in South America, or about the series numbering, maybe how many there were I would certainly be interested.

It will certainly have a place of honour in my collection as long as I have it.  I plan on contacting the Penguin archives in England to see if they have a copy of it. I'd be happy to donate it to them if they don't.  I think it is a wonderful piece of Penguin history that people interested in vintage Penguin books might be interested in.

P.S. Eva Peron's cemetery photos will have to wait until another post. Penguin has place of honour in this one. Comments welcomed.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

What would Huckleberry Finn think of this??

This is a really funny sight to see these huge busses
on these small rafts. They tip at quite an angle as they
drive onto the rafts.
Today we left La Paz and rode the bus to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. It was a mostly uneventful trip for the first couple of hours and then we had to cross a large body of water.....on a bus.

We were told we would be approaching a specific section of the lake and we would be disembarking the bus, and walking down to the shore to get onto a small ferry boat and would cross the section of lake in 15 minutes. We were also told to bring our passports as the police often wait and check people's documentation.
Waiting to board our boat while the 'sailbus' crossed.
We pulled up into the carpark and could see the beautiful lake and the more narrow section that we were to cross.
We were also told that once across do not wander off because once the bus crossed it then leaves immediately.

We walked down to the dock and saw our little ferry and about 15 to 20 people were herded onto it.

What was very unusual (to us anyway) was the mode of transport for the bus. These very large boats I can only describe as a raft , about the length of two busses, transporting one bus and one car or small truck each.

It really looked like they were going to drive the bus onto Huck Finn's raft. It is the only thing I can compare it to.

We took off on our little boat and enjoyed the view and got a few photos but I really was mesmerised by these full sized tour busses, there were three on three different rafts, tilted as they travelled across the water with two or three men controlling the rafts.
We laughed at how they tucked in the old VW Beetle behind
the bus on  it's way back to where we had just left.

We enjoyed the "show" as most of the others on board also did except for a coupe of locals who didn't seem to even notice.

Once across the water, we all boarded the bus again and spent another hour travelling to Copacabana.

Our guide directed us off the bus and walked us to our hotel, carrying one of our bags (mine :-) ) and we are now checked into a lovely Bolivian hotel that has lots of colourful fabrics on the furniture and Bolivian artwork on the walls.

This is the boat the boat passengers rode.
Once checked in we had an hour until he met us in reception to take us to where we were having lunch. We enjoyed a traditional Bolivian lunch of soup with very small cut up potatoes and a grain that I can only compare to barley. It had a few vegetables in it. It was very good. The next part of the meal was the main. We had a choice of three traditional Bolivian food. I had trout that is cut in half lengthwise and deboned completely and then it is fried up on quite a high heat as the skin was very crunchy and the meat side was not as crunchy though dry. It had a great flavour. Tom had beef with rice and both of our meals had cut up tomatoes. 

The man lined everything up so both vehicles were
able to get back onto shore. Imagine having this as your
daily job.
The restaurant where we ate luinch. The fish is the
container to put tips in. While eating a little girl came in
and tried to shake the money out of it w/ no luck.
Our guide, Efrian, had spaghettii bolognese which is a traditional Bolivia meal also. They eat spaghetti everywhere here but I had it twice in La Paz so decided to try the trout.
Tom had a beer, Efrian had a Fanta and I had a very large glass of freshly squeezed mango juice.

We sat at the table discussing various things about Bolivia, the USA and Australia, mainly political and Efrian is determined that I will learn more Spanish during the next two days he is our guide.

We have travelled a great deal but it is not often we have our own private guide. It felt quite rich as we were then escorted after lunch to the small town centre, and a visit to their large cathedral.

They worship the Virgin Mother here and not so much emphasis on Jesus. The enormous silver and gold altar covered the entire back wall of the altar. Photos were not allowed. The cathedral is in the shape of a cross as most are and he then took us upstairs where the Virgin Mary statue was transported into Bolivia from Peru when the original church was built in the 1500's.

This church was built in the 1800's. Again more silver and gold. He explained much of the history of the church and the beginning of the Christian takeover of Bolivia. The church wanted more control of the people and by introducing Christianity and building a cathedral they were able to change the practises of spirituality from the pagan practices of the past to worshiping the Virgin Mary. Now most of this was explained in Spanish and Tom translated a bit for me, I understood quite a bit and Efrian also translated for both of us when needed.

There is a room in the church called the candle room. It is a very long rectangular room with fire and hundreds of lit candles. People go in with purchased candles, light them, pray over them or meditate and wait until they burn down and soften and then write messages on the walls with the melted wax and bits of left over candle. It was very interesting to watch as I have not seen this practice before. However the smoke was so incredibly thick we could only stay a moment as it was like going inside of a fiercely burning building.
We were told by our guide that he had never seen it so smoky before. He led us back outside immediately because none of us could tolerate the smoke.

If I bury this one with a dried llama fetus as an offering
I am saying I want a better job.
We then walked through the markets, Tom bought an enormous bag of the traditional popcorn that has each kernel about the size of a ping pong ball. He was happy. It is more like giant rice puffs that have been sweetned and quite fun to chew on.

He explained some of the practises of the offerings still given in the form of candies and llama fetuses that are dried and then buried with all of these sweets and there are square sheets of candy that have different wishes on them. One had a house on it if the person wanted a house. You can pray for love (a candy with a couple on it) or a new or better job (a man sitting at an office.)

We were then escorted back to our hotel for several hours of rest before dinner.

We leave this hotel at 8:30 tomorrow afternoon to go across the lake to a large island where we will have more guided activities tomorrow and an overnight stay at the hotel on the Isla del Sol (Isle of the Sun). It should be interesting so stay tuned....

A -Santiago; B-Peurto Montt; C-Beriloche
D-Iquique; E-La Paz; F- Copacabana

(I am a couple of days behind in posting the travel blogs so if I have told you I am somewhere else in the meantime, then I am somewhere else.)