Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

A Pint of Plain, by Bill Barich

July 4, 2016 1 comment

I picked this book up while I was in Dublin in May this year with my husband. It was in a used bookshop that was going out of business so I thought I had to get something. What would be more apropos then to read a book about pubs while visiting Ireland. Actually, it was something I seriously hadn’t thought about prior to purchasing the book, visiting pubs, that is.

I’ve never been much of a drinker, except maybe by accident when I come across something really tasty and then take too much. But normally, drink is not first on my list. I’m very deliberate in that way.

In fact, our only purpose for visiting a pub when we were in Dublin was in search of some real Irish music. Ironically, this is one of the purposes that the author has when he first begins his research into what has happened to the Irish pubs and their reputation. He’s looking for authenticity and part of that approach is for him to locate somewhere that plays authentic music.

Barich certainly visits many pubs, both within Dublin and without. He does a decent job of describing the interiors, the food, the beer, the staff, etc. He also has a poetic style of writing. I suppose what I found lacking was any real organization in the book.

After reading the whole book, and it took time. I realized that we actually did a decent job of visiting the one pub that probably had as authentic an atmosphere as lucky tourists my get on their first try – and that was O’Donohues at 15 Merrion Row. Here’s a link to someone else’s youtube video of the live music.

Along the theme of music, Barich describes a collection of more than 1800 melodies that went into The Music of Ireland in 1903 and which is still commonly referred to as “The Book” for still being a definitive resource for musicians. Barich repeats a quote that describes traditional music:

Traditional music…connects the past to the present and closes a circle, and that’s the source of its powerful hold on an audience.

This is the best music link I could find on YouTube. Prepare for 40 luscious minutes of Irish music.

This must be true to some extent, because I have often felt myself held by traditional music, even when it is not my own, but I must say, having descended from four Irish relatives, the pull of Irish music holds me in a way that most other traditional music doesn’t. Is there some type of genetic memory that clings to us from generation?

My only regret, after reading the book, is that we didn’t visit the Brazen Head Pub, even though we walked right past it and it definitely looked inviting. We just didn’t take the leap!

Barich spends a few moments, in spatters throughout the book, referring to Oldenburg’s theory of third places (“great good places…that are at the heart of a community’s social vitality and the foundation of a functioning democracy”) and how pubs fit into the definition of “third places” – not home, the first place, nor work, the second place. A third place provides neutral ground that erases the distinction between a host and a guest… Anyway, there is a ton to read on that subject.

While in Ireland, I discovered that many Australians originated from Irish convict status, and I was able to confirm that none of my stock began in Australia this way – not that it would have meant anything if they had.

My Irish ancestors: My maternal grandfather descended from pure Irish stock on his mother’s side. Her father’s parents were Hugh Carolin 1808-1964 (Dublin) married Margaret Gilchrist 1805-1857. Her mother was Elizabeth Spillane 1808-1896 (Holycross, Tipperary). I don’t have information on whom she married. Based on the period that these people were alive, I am assuming that they fled Ireland during the potato famine.

Heading to Ireland, at a time, when Syrian refugees were and continue to pour out into the rest of the world, and rediscovering part of my family’s past had a certain serendipity to it. All of us have come from somewhere and many of us have immigrated at some point in our lives or our ancestors have. Would I be here, in the United States today, prospering, if my Irish relatives had not been able to escape Ireland’s potato famine…looking for food and life?

Categories: Books, Family, Ireland, Personal, Travel

The Year We Seized the Day, by Elizabeth Best & Colin Bowles

May 20, 2015 Leave a comment

This book is based on the experience that two Australian authors had when then walked on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. It was published in 2007, so things may have changed since they walked it. I admit that since my Mom and I did not stay in refugios (in 2012), except for two of the nights, when we walked the Camino, I am not confident in my impression of refugios. I mention this point, only because the authors spend a large amount of time talking about the bad state of refugios. However, the last book I read about the Camino and blogged about, was also pretty negative regarding refugios, so I think there is a trend. As for my experience, my Mom decided she could not put up with the snoring that occurs in large rooms with multiple bunk beds and exhausted walkers, so we chose private albergues where sometimes we were able to get private rooms to ourselves but at most we shared with about 6-8 people, which can make a big difference. There is a price differential, though, so it’s a big consideration.

Back to this book. So pretty early on, I realized that something was going on with these authors. They made the decision to walk the Camino on the spur of the moment, with only about 2 week’s notice. As the story progresses, so too do their personal stories. Not only is their experience on the Camino very intense, but what they are going through on a personal level and in their relationship is also intense. I’m not going to give away any details of their personal lives here. That would ruin it. But I will say that one has to be prepared for some fairly heavy reading.

Also, something that really struck me was the level of physical suffering that these two experienced. At no point, did they ever seem to be without serious injuries. This just shows how important some kind of training regime is. When my Mom and I walked it, we trained for 6 months prior to the walk and still my Mom had tendinitis in her foot and I had trouble with my knee (previously injured in a skiing accident).

I don’t have a bunch of quotes to add to this blog because it wasn’t that kind of a book. But there is one thing I did want to repeat in this blog, it’s something that Best repeats from a Swedish man she meets in Finisterre (which is further on from Santiago and was once considered the end of the world) when he’s talking about why he left Sweden and decided to stay in Spain and then she ruminates on what he says:

‘I go home to an office job in a call center with a boss who gets paid to stand over my shoulder and make me feel like mud. He doesn’t even know my name. But still, I must answer to him and he must answer to the company and the company must answer to the government, who I pay tax to. It is all around and about in circles going nowhere,’ he says. I tell him I understand. Life here is a far cry from the rat race of cities everywhere. Bills, mobile phones, Sex and the City, nine-to-five working days and the general dog-eat-dog mentality of everyday life are rendered inconsequential when each day is stripped to its essentials. Priorities change.

What I appreciate most about Camino life, however, is time. Time to think, to breathe, to talk, to ponder, to explore, to learn, to interact and grow, to enjoy food and wine and moments and views. Time to give thanks for what you have, identify what you don’t have  and work on things you need. Time. And as much of it as you like. I’m going to miss it and I know, in time, I will miss the person I am with it.

Perhaps this is why people return to the Camino, because it has something we cannot get in our ordinary lives…in the nothingness, there is a richness of life. The meaning of status, money and possessions drop away and you are left with yourself, nature, and the relationships you make along the way.

NB: A refugio and an albergue both refer to overnight facilities available to walking or cycling pilgrims who have authenticated pilgrim credentials. They are interchangeable.

Categories: Books, The Camino

Walk in a Relaxed Manner, by Joyce Rupp

April 28, 2015 Leave a comment

This is one of the few books out there that has been written about walking on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. If you haven’t heard of this pilgrimage, then you need to know about it. I won’t go into the history of the pilgrimage here, but suffice to say that hundreds of thousands of people have found themselves on this path for one reason or another. I walked part of it with my mother a few years ago. It haunted me for several years before that and has recently begun to haunt me again. Perhaps it is because I recently discovered the facebook page for American Pilgrims on the Camino (APOC) and reading about people who are preparing for the walk or who are reminiscing about their walk has brought it all up again. In any event, my fiance and I are planning to walk it together next year and I am yearning for that experience.

Although this book, Walk in a Relaxed Manner, was published in 2005, it is still relevant. I’m not sure about the quality of the Refugios, in general, since my mom and I stayed mostly in pensions. The two refugios we stayed in were extremely different. The first, was small and privately run. The pilgrims were respectful and we were exhausted, it being our first night on the Camino. It was after that night that my mom insisted that we stay in pensions as she could not sleep with the snoring. The second refugio we stayed in was quite a bit further along and was an enormous publicly run establishment. It was broken down into bunk rooms of 4 beds, which mitigated the snore factor, but the bathrooms were fairly atrocious and I recall not wanting to put anything down anywhere. It was in that refugio, though, that we met one of the women we became long-term friends with, so I can’t dog it too much.

The wonderful thing about this book is that it brings back so many memories. The facts and circumstances are not exactly the same and I don’t remember where certain events took place in my walk (which towns or villages) specifically, but the experiences are similar.

One quote the author used in her 16th chapter, that touched me deeply, was this from Joan Halifax:

The secret of life, say the Utes, is in the shadows and not in the open sun; to see anything at all, you must look deeply into the shadow of a living thing.

In that same chapter, the author talked about her expectations and disappointment:

As I listened to Rachel speak of her dissatisfaction…my own Camino disappointments revealed themselves for what they were: mainly a result of my own ideas, values, and expectations. It became clear to me that no one set out to deliberately cause me undue discontent. I was the main cause of the frustrations I experienced…

I looked at the disappointments Tom and I had experienced, including the smaller ones, and how they were largely due to what we imagined or hoped would be.

The disappointments I experienced on the Camino led me to ask numerous questions: “Is it wrong to have ideals, goals, and hopes for what might be? Is it disastrous to have expectations and longings? Is it unreal to think that life’s situations might match my own values? Is it crazy to believe that things might turn out as one wishes?” My response to these: not at all. But when something does not match my desires, I have a choice. I can crab about the situation or see it in the light of unmet expectations. Attention to expectations can keep me from blaming and carrying anger around unnecessarily.

I’m not sure I need to say anything about this, except that for some time I have been contemplating expectations: mine and those of others. Sometimes, I can clearly see that expectations are nothing but a box and if I try to live to those expectations, I am placing myself in that box. If I can live with an openness to experiences, then I am free.

Coincidentally, there is a chapter dedicated to the idea of traveling lightly, this is meant literally and also figuratively. This idea resonates with something I have been trying to do in my life, lightening the physical load of “stuff” that I possess and lessening the emotional “stuff” that I carry around in my thoughts. Rupp quotes Carol Christ at the beginning of her chapter on this subject:

Every time each of us resists the urge to buy, we are taking one small step to change our world.

She goes on to say:

The day after I returned from walking the Camino I opened the door of my clothes closet and stood there stunned…for the first time in seven weeks I had to decide what I was going to wear….On the Camino…I had only one change of clothes….Seeing so much before me felt daunting. I had grown to love traveling lightly on the Camino. Now I found myself returning to a complex world, one fraught with consumerism, with the pressure to look good and live a certain way to be socially acceptable. I did not want to return to this way of life. I longed for the simplicity the Camino had taught me.

I remember this feeling too, when it came to making decisions. On the Camino, the decisions are fairly simple. When shopping for food, it comes down to how much you want to carry and how much space you have in your pack, so that one piece of fruit or a can of beans, can make an enormous difference.

Rupp goes on to say that:

Since [the Camino] I have observed how traveling lightly is not just about the amount of things we have, it is also how we allow those things to lead us away from what truly counts in daily life. These things tangle our attention and absorb our time, often creating more personal stress…This practice of having too much is often an unconscious way of distracting ourselves from what is happening at a deeper level of life. It deters us from entering into opportunities for greater meaning and fuller peace of mind and heart…Traveling lightly means divesting one’s self of inner stuff, as well. This, too, can bog us down and keep us from being focused on what really matters in life. Emphasizing or being overly concerned about reputation, status, looking good, knowing enough, having an admirable position can also deter us from walking on the road of life with a clear mind and a liberated heart.

I think I can say that this chapter was my favorite, because it resonates with what I am trying to do in my life. Trying to let go of the ego especially in regards to how it is massaged by attention related to material and financial wealth is very hard. I might hazard a guess that it is a daily effort and requires me to remind myself, that often, that I am not in need of whatever my ego thinks I need in order to feel ok.

Finally, I will end with a thought-provoking quote from C.G. Jung, that Rupp uses in one of her last chapters:

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.

Categories: Books, Personal, The Camino

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

December 22, 2014 2 comments

I just had to write something about this book, The Paris Wife, because I found it so fascinating. I am not an Ernest Hemingway aficionado. I read The Green Hills of Africa in 2011 and found it to be very interesting, but also quite graphic and brutal. It’s a non-fiction book about the game-hunting he did while in Tanzania. It’s very interesting if you are looking to compare what the animal population once was in that part of the world, compared to the numbers today. Quite shocking, really.

After reading McLain’s book, I understand that this is something he was always trying to get to in his writing, this purity in the violent act, such as in the bull-fighting that is purported in The Sun Also Rises, which I have not read.

This book is so well written, that I truly felt I was reading the words of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife. I pined with her for Hemingway when he was away on work assignments, and felt her frustration and her anger as he drifted into his relationship with Pauline Pfeiffer. McLain carefully lays out the suffering that these women have in common and they compete for Hemingway’s affection. But it is impossible to take Pauline’s side, interloper that she was. Although, in no way, is Hemingway innocent, having carried on affairs, apparently, throughout his marriage.

I highly recommend this book. I’m adding Hemingway’s book, A Moveable Feast, to my list of books to read, since it’s supposed to be about his relationship with Hadley Richardson. I suspect I have had this book on my audio list at the library for several years, so it’s about time to get to it!

Categories: Books

Lift Her Up, Tenderly by Bob LeFevre

August 12, 2014 Leave a comment

I’ve been trying to read this book for about a month. It’s been much less than riveting. Although, it is quite an easy read. So I feel pretty pathetic for having drawn it out this long.

It was published in 1976, I think. It’s not clear based on the information provided from the book. The book reads like it was written in the late 60s. The tone is definitely patronizing, sexist, and verges on inappropriate in the way the author describes his thoughts/feelings for the young girl he and his wife are guardians for.

In this book, the author is describing his thoughts on economics to this young girl. The economic part is interesting though influenced by his personal beliefs in regards to politics, sex and religion.

I’ve vas collated while reading this book, between whether I would recommend it to anyone to read; I think ultimately the answer has to be ‘no’.

Categories: Books, Economy

France on Foot, by Bruce LeFavour

August 25, 2013 Leave a comment

This seems like an unlikely book for me to have read, but I picked it up from the library, thinking that it could help me as I prepared for the El Camino pilgrimage that I walked with my mom, last year. I was right! It was an excellent resource, just to understand the day-to-dayness of walking a long distance among other things. And, I read this book from cover to cover. LeFavour mixes the right amount of practical advice, with personal stories and descriptions of the French countryside and food to keep the reader intrigued.

Ok, so while this book doesn’t address the Camino, in particular, it’s very good for getting one to think about how to eat when walking long distances, and what to wear, etc. All from someone who has spent time walking long distances in the French countryside. There was even a website by the author, but it has since disappeared.

The biggest shocker when I started reading this book – and I mean this was really quite shocking (but in a good way) because I have spent an incredible amount of time in France – is that France has more walking paths than England. I knew that England is littered with public trails that cover private property, but the number of trails in France greatly surpasses those in England. France has 110,000 miles of trails.

The trail system in France is documented in several different map formats. The France Grande Randonnee (IGN) Map 903 published by the Institut geographique national or IGN shows 37,500 miles of trails. And, surprisingly, there are more than 1600 local walking clubs in France, according to LeFavour.

The origins of these paths is quite interesting and maybe slightly unexpected:

Originally, most of the trials in the agricultural areas of France like the Loire, Normandy, Picardy, Lorraine, much of Brittany and all the wine regions were rights-of-way from the villages to the fields surrounding those villages. In medieval times the French peasant was threatened regularly by robbers, marauding armies, imaginary ghosts and all-too-real wolves, so as to protect himself and his family, he retreated with others into the relative security of villages near but not next to his fields. During the day the family ventured out to their fields warily on foot or horseback, using a warren of muddy paths. At night they scuttled back to the village over those same tracks. Since all the villagers needed to walk the paths, they were public, not private. Those that are left today, remain so.

There are four kinds of trails in France:

  1. National Trails – 37,500 miles of long-distance sentiers de grande randonnee or GR trails. They use white and red blazes as markers. These trails take the walker from one place to another. They are not closed loops
  2. Regional Trails – the sentier de grande randonee de pays or GRP cover one region, and often in a circuit. They can be quite long – up to 134 miles by LeFavour’s accounting. These trails are blazed in yellow and red.
  3. Local Trails – the sentier de promenade et randonnee or PR cover local walks only. They radiate out from towns and villages all over France and use only yellow blazes but when they criss-cross they may use other colors as well.
  4. International Trails – the itineriere europeen  or E are the continuation in France of trails that cross other countries.

Most towns have an office called the Syndicat d’Initiative, which distributes, for a small fee or for free, trail maps of the local area. You can also check with the local bookstore (librarie) for maps.

LeFavour promotes staying in bed-and-breakfasts (chambres d’hotes) and farms that accept guests (gites ruraux). Surprisingly, the French countryside is home to far fewer people today than at the end of WWII. LeFavour says, which I tend to concur with through personal experience, that the French are willing to spend a great deal of public money in support of their conviction that the quality of life and not just the accumulation of material goods is a large part of what makes life worth living. This is in the context of the money the government gives to support the parcs naturels regionaux.

Good maps to get:

Overview: France grande randonnee IGN 903

Planning: Michelin cartes routieres et touristiques (Michelin road and tourist maps). 5x more detailed than the IGN 903.

IGN blue maps: carte bleu serie bleu

Where to buy maps if not in France:  Adventurous Traveler Bookstore

Final Tips: Book restaurants ahead of time if you have done research and know they are good. They make only one booking per table in the evening because it is assumed that you will take your time, to enjoy what is prepared for you.

Guidebooks to buy: Michelin Hotels-Restaurants, the Logis de France, the Chambres et Tables d’hotes and the Gites d’etape & de sejour

LeFavour suggests making your own book from everything that you have gleaned and carrying that instead of all of the guidebooks suggested above.

Buen Camino! Or happy any other walk and/or pilgrimage you may be on.

Categories: Books, Travel

Where Has Oprah Taken Us? A book by Stephen Mansfield

November 26, 2012 2 comments

I don’t know what made me pick this book up. Maybe it was something I just saw at the library as I was looking for something else. Or maybe it was because my mom is a big Oprah fan and I thought it might be interesting to read something about Oprah, to understand my mom and Oprah a bit better. Who knows.

Mansfield uses this book to write about his understanding of Oprah’s religious and/or spiritual beliefs. I think a very important concept to keep in mind, when reading a book like this, is that it is not the subject’s beliefs, per se, that are being analyzed, but rather the author’s beliefs as to the subject’s beliefs. So whether or not Oprah believes what Mansfield says she believes, well, I have no knowledge of that. I haven’t done any outside research on her beliefs or her reactions to this book, which was published in 2011. So we can only look at Oprah from the author’s perspective, which does not mean that it is an accurate reflection of her actual beliefs.

Mansfield is a die-hard Christian, so everything in this book has to be seen through that lens. For example, he says (p.34):

What I know is this: I am not capable of deciding my own path to salvation. I doubt any of us are. And the thought that I am left to seek out ‘my spirituality, my spiritual self on my own’ makes the universe a lonely, fearful place.

This statement follows a longer statement by Mansfield, regarding his own limited desire to determine anything regarding religion or spirituality based on emotions, and that he can only trust the words of “elders in the faith”. In other words, Mansfield does not want to take any responsibility for the intellectual analysis as to whether the faith he follows could be accurate or not; He would rather just trust what has been laid down for him, which means that his religious belief is more serendipity than anything else. So that if he had been born into a Jewish family, then he would have accepted that as his religion, and likewise if he’d been born into a Muslim family he’d happily be a Muslim. Mansfield does not want to have to question his own beliefs, he would rather question those of others, which I think leaves the reader wondering more about him than about Oprah. And, I think the book would have had an added depth to it, had he explored his own religious beliefs in conjunction with looking at Oprah’s.

Mansfield gives an overview of Oprah’s life: her upbringing and the challenges she faced living with her mother at certain times in her life and with her father at other times. Her parents had completely different ideas on child-rearing. Mansfield, I believe is trying to give the reader a sense of how Oprah came to be who she is today. He even discusses Bill and Hillary Clinton’s brand of religion, or at least his belief regarding their religion, which is unnecessary to repeat here. (Who knew that Hillary saw Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall in 1962?)

One thing that’s nice about this book, is that Mansfield discusses the ideologies of several well-known people and summarizes their belief systems, which for some of them, I had been wondering about myself (remember this is how he describes these people and beliefs-which may or may not reflect in actuality what those people’s beliefs really are):

Marianne Williamson: An expert on the teachings of A Course in Miracles. Her teachings are based mostly on this simple idea: release fear, embrace love.

Eckhart Tolle: His core idea is the certainty that all of reality is one. When humans perceive themselves apart from the oneness of the universe they belong to, it is then that dysfunction and confusion set in.

Gary Zukav: Believes that the soul undergoes a constant cycle of reincarnation. Each soul learns from the varieties of incarnations as well as its present lifetime.

Deepak Chopra: Believes that we are not individual beings at all but merely local expressions of an infinite, universal field of energy. All of us are connected to patterns of intelligence that govern the whole cosmos. Our bodies are part of the universal body, our minds an aspect of a universal mind.

The Reverend Ed Bacon: Believes that every human being is a gift form God, particularly people who are marginalized and victimized in our culture.

Iyanla Vanzant: She is a Yoruba priestess, believing that every human being is destined to become one with the divine creator and source of all energy.

Mansfield calls these people, “Oprah’s spiritual family.” He contends that the only reason any of them hold any sway is because they are “nice or attractive or humorous or kind”. And in Oprah’s case, the only reason she holds any influence is because she is “rich and famous”. Oh, dear Mansfield, even I do not believe that, and I am not a big Oprah fan. It’s almost ridiculous, or at the very least paternalistic and sexist to judge Oprah’s success in this way.

Mansfield’s overarching message is that Oprah’s form of spirituality is dangerous because too many people simply go along with whatever Oprah says, instead of investigating religion and/or spirituality for themselves. Wait a second, isn’t that exactly what he said he was afraid of doing for himself in the first place, that he’d rather just go along with what the elders said…hmmm. Just because you won’t do it for yourself, doesn’t mean others won’t do it for themselves.

I think Mansfield’s description of Christianity is just as bizarre as the religious beliefs he derides  (p.176):

There is a God who created all things but who is separate from his creation. He created all things along with his son, Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully man. Both reign from heaven, a place outside of this created universe. Both are tended by angels who do their bidding. Also part of this Godhead us the Holy Spirit, who is God in spiritual form and whose job it is to continue the work Jesus Christ began when he walked the earth. There are also demons, evil beings who were once angels but who rebelled against God prior to human history. These demons are led by an arch demon name Satan or Lucifer. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan are in conflict with each other and the earth is where much of this ongoing war places out.

From this synopsis of Christianity, he concludes that Christian spirituality is about knowing and worshiping God. Interesting, only because it puts a positive spin on what actually sounds like a made up fairy story.

In essence, I think his analysis is all wrong; if Christianity is based on teachings from the Bible, which was written by men, men who knew Jesus, or who “heard” the words of God, then isn’t that similar to what is happening with the people he calls Oprah’s “spiritual family”? Christianity and  other major religions began much in the same way that Oprah is exploring alternative beliefs today. Didn’t most major religious beliefs get passed on from one generation to the next by word of mouth, or by written word? Who’s to say that their beginnings were not as strange in their time, as Oprah and her “spiritual family’s” are today?

Ultimately, what Mansfield seems to rail against the most is the idea that there are strong similarities in the myriad of religious and/or spiritual beliefs that exist today. He would prefer that these religions remain autonomous-in their silos, as it were.

The low point in Mansfield’s book is when he compares New Age love to a lack of ethics and assumes that if the world were based on love and a feeling of love then we would have sex with children and animals because there is no ethical content to love, only a good feeling. That really delegitmizes his analysis.

In fact, a lot of priests have sexually abused children; Christianity provided the context for that to occur. Before looking to criticize other religions and spiritual beliefs, Mansfield should look to his own, and think about what it has or hasn’t done for society.

Categories: Books