Thursday, January 24, 2019

Book Review: Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai

Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai is an extraordinary life story that takes the reader from Maathai’s childhood in rural Kenya to being a Nobel Laureate. Her continual optimism is evident throughout; whether she is walking through open doors of opportunities or confronting umpteen stumbling blocks. She persists and focuses on her goals. Her indomitable spirit rings through every action she takes to achieve her goals.

Maathai’s quest to save Kenya’s green space, by planting one tree at a time, led to her founding the Green Belt Movement. She empowers women to become active and create groups that would plant trees in their neighbourhoods. She becomes involved in the political arena, and against all odds strives to restore democracy in Kenya. Despite the prevailing issues as described by Mathaai, Kenya is a democratic country with timely elections.

In a stoic and graceful manner, she withstands the many challenges, some of a violent nature, from the Kenyan Government and persists in her raison d’etre to ensure the greenery of Kenya, equality for women, and good governance in Kenya.

Unbowed: A Memoir is a captivating life story from which many lessons can be learned, including the power of perseverance in order to achieve one’s goals and having the passion to make a dream a reality. Maathai illustrates how she did it. It is an excellent read.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Book Review: Intellectual Memoirs by Mary McCarthy - Non-fiction

The following review is sourced from KIRKUS REVIEW:


For all its final aborted promise, this slender sequel to How I Grew (1987), left unfinished at McCarthy's death in 1989, vibrates with the wicked wit and moral astringency that made the author a giant of American belles-lettres. If How I Grew covered the birth of her intellectual consciousness, this volume details the birth of McCarthy's career as a writer--practicing her craft as a twentysomething, Waspish book and theater critic at Partisan Review while accumulating the experience that would nourish her later career and quarrels (including her decisive break with Stalinism and the sequel encounter that inspired ``The Man in the Brooks Brothers Suit''). In her fond introduction, friend Elizabeth Hardwick traces McCarthy's tactile re-creation of time, place, and character to her ``somewhat obsessional concern for the integrity of sheer fact in matters both trivial and striking.'' The result, when combined with her familiar mockery of phonies and poseurs, is explosive laughter. Witness incidents about Corliss Lamont, a ``pawky freckled swain'' who unsuccessfully attempted to seduce her; and about a rival for her first husband's affections, ``a yellow-eyed lynxlike blonde given to stretching herself like the cats she fancied.'' Equally incapable of lying about herself--``self-deception always chilled me''--McCarthy recounts how she wrote a politically correct review for fellow-traveler Malcolm Cowley at The New Republic, drunkenly sat on Max Eastman's lap at a party, and slept with three different men within 24 hours. Most of all, she ruefully recalls how badly she hurt her lover, Partisan Review editor Philip Rahv, by embarking on an affair with, and later disastrous marriage to, Edmund Wilson. A small gem, viewing an era of deep political and personal engagement with no tears and a brave heart.
My Comments: It was an unusual, yet interesting narrative which depicts Mary McCarthy's lifestyle and her career as a writer.  It illustrates bold and transparent sentiments of how she feels and lives in New York from 1936 - 1938.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Book Review: The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway - Short Story

The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway is a story about a couple, Harry and Helen, who escape from the lifestyle of the rich and famous in Paris to a hunting adventure near Mount Kilimanjaro. At around twenty thousand feet, and snow-capped this is the highest mountain in Africa. The Masai, the local tribe, call it the House of God.

Harry is seriously ill, coping with gangrene festering in his leg. He was pricked by a thorn and did not treat it promptly. Now he lies in a cot awaiting death. Helen loves him dearly and comforts him as much as she can. They cannot go anywhere as their truck has broken down and thus their next option to await a plane to take them to a hospital.

In moments of unconsciousness, evident throughout the story, Harry muses about his lifestyle as a writer. He has not done enough and appears distracted by his involvement with rich women and they are boring to him. The conversations between Harry and Helen reveal her love for him and his dislike for her. He lies in the cot claiming that he will die from the gangrene. Towards the end of the story, Harry is dreaming of a plane taking him away to a hospital. But the ending is different.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro depicts reflections by a writer on his lifestyle and his incomplete life as a writer. It is a sad story.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Book Review: Where You Belong by Barbara Taylor Bradford - Fiction

Barbara Taylor Bradford in her novel, Where You Belong captures the war time horrors through the lens of three photojournalists—American, Valentine (Val)Denning, British, Tony Hampton and American Jake Newburg. They are on the frontlines in Kosovo where they are in the midst of a shooting mayhem. The three of them are taken down; they wake up in a hospital in Belgrade only to find out that Tony died. Val was devastated as he was her lover. Gradually Tony’s character is unraveled, beginning at his funeral.

Severely injured, Val and Jake recuperate in Paris, their home office. They cope with uncovering the true nature of Tony and its impact on Val particularly. She struggles to find her place in the world. With support from her colleagues and Jake she engages in reflective awareness. In between, her brother contacts her with a request to come back to New York City to visit with her ailing mother. This brings intrigue and a new kind of dynamic to the story as the author delves into Val’s relationship with her mother and her family.

Ultimately, the author deftly illustrates the strength and determination of Val Denning to find her special place in the world. Where You Belong is an interesting read with many twists and turns in the story.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Book Review: New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton - Non-fiction

In New Seeds of Contemplation, the author Thomas Merton takes the reader on a journey of discovery. At the beginning Merton explains contemplation and then delves into what contemplation is not. Thus, the reader becomes aware of the spiritual aspect of learning about the connections between the mind and the soul that leads to how we behave and act.

This kind of portrayal illustrates a type of philosophical and spiritual analysis that could become a prescription for the reader to follow. There are persuasive elements of how a person can become meditative, more aware and experience the joy of solitude and how to be alone. Merton espouses the merits very aptly.

The philosophical trends are evident when Merton delves into the moral theology of the devil that further culminates to identifying the root of war as fear and that hell is hatred.

Merton subtly brings in the religious aspect by defining faith that leads to the illustration of the conceptual movement from faith to wisdom and then outlining the mystery of Christ that leads to the life of Christ.

The mix of philosophy and spirituality is engaging; it allows for many pauses for thought and further questioning as the reader examines the nuances of how to practice contemplation.

New Seeds of Contemplation is a beautiful read that opens the mind, heart and soul to a strengthened way of living.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Travel News: The Camino Walk: The Portuguese Coastal Route

I completed the last leg of the Portuguese Seaside Route. This first post outlines a bit of the history of the Portuguese Camino routes. The next post will describe highlights of my experiences of walking for a total of six days covering 126km.

Historical Background of the Camino to Santiago Routes in Portugal

Such was the popularity of the Camino to Santiago in medieval times that a complex network of pilgrim routes through Portugal developed. Not all have survived the passage of time, although there is talk of reviving one or two of them as the Camino grows in increasing popularity. Nowadays there are a number of waymarked routes from Portugal to Santiago and often there is confusion as to which is which. The historic medieval pilgrim routes are well documented and researched. The main routes are:

The Central Route (Caminho Central): This follows much of the path of the Camino Real—the Royal Road. In medieval times it was, as it is today, the path most travelled by pilgrims and, as such, has the most developed infrastructure.

The Braga Way (Caminho de Braga): This old routes from Oporto passes through Braga, one of the most important cities in the history of the legend of Saint James, on the Iberian Peninsula. The route joins the Central Route in Ponte de Lima.

The Coastal Route (Caminho da Costa): This route came to the fore in the 1700s and was used by pilgrims living the coastal communities and those who arrived by boat at the many ports and fishing villages. It is an historic route not to be confused with the Senda Litoral – the Coastal Path, although the two routes cross at points.

The Seaside Route (Senda Litoral): In modern times, as holiday resorts have developed along the coastline of Portugal and Spain, so too have seaside paths. The Senda Litoral is not one of the Caminos to Santiago although many pilgrims do use this way. At points it crosses with the Coastal Route.

The Interior Way (Caminho Interior): This route starts at the Cathedral of Viseu in central Portugal and travels through Vila Real to Chaves, joining across the border in Spain with Verin and the Camino Sanabres from the south.

Credit to Johnnie Walker from the Confraternity of Saint James in the UK. This information was included in our Holiday Pack sent by the tour company, Camino Ways.

Day 1: Saturday, September 8, 2018 – Baiona, Spain
Day of Orientation and overnight stay at Hotel Bahia, located outside the centre of Baiona. We had a briefing session with our Tour Leader.

At this point of the Portuguese Coastal Camino route, we had a choice of walking along the coastal or seaside route. Our group chose the seaside route. The next day we began walking from this town of Baiona.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Travel News: Days 2 - 7 of the Camino Walk

Day 2 – September 9, 2018: Baiona to Vigo, Spain

On this first day, our group walked along the Camino Way for 26km heading towards Vigo. It was a misty day. We followed the promenade right until we came to Playa Santa Maria. We walked along the waterfront boardwalk and crossed over some bridges.

We stopped to visit our first chapel for a stamp on our Camino Passports. Each day we had to have a minimum of two stamps on our Camino Passports.

During the remainder of the day, we interacted with each other on many topics such as how did Iberia split to become Portugal and Spain.

We stopped and took pictures, had our Camino Passports stamped, dated. and signed at other sites. Some of the time I drifted away and reflected on my own.

After lunch, we continued walking towards our next stop, Vigo. We stayed close to the waterfront until we came into the centre of Vigo as we noticed the Cathedral nearby.

We arrived at Hotel Compostela Vigo. At dinner we were given a bit of a history of the Camino by our knowledgeable Tour Leader as we raised a glass or two on our first day of accomplishment.

Notes: Baiona is the most touristic sea side town in the south of Galicia with a well preserved Old Town, golden sandy beaches and a wide variety of important monuments.

Day 3: September 10, 2018: From Vigo to Redondela, Spain 

We walked through the town of Vigo admiring the beautiful architectural buildings.

Then we came to the dirt trails signposting the Camino Way.  The first part was an enjoyable walk through the nature trails where there was much peace and more reflective time alone.

By the afternoon and before lunch we meandered our way down a very steep decline. This was very challenging.  But with a deep chagrin we did it despite the hot, hot sun bearing down on us.
We found a restaurant for a much needed late lunch break as we “inhaled” the Spanish beer with a sandwich. Our hotel was located about 5.6km after Redondela on the Camino. 

We arrived at our accommodation, Hotel Santo Apostolo for cleansing, dinner and a good night's sleep.  The next day we walked to Pontevedra, a 20km walk.
Notes: Vigo is the largest city in Galicia--population 200,000 more than double that of Santiago de Compostela. The city faces a large estuary and still is an active port.

Day 4: September 11, 2018 - From Redondela to Pontevedra

 On September 11, 2018, we left Redondela for Pontevedra. After walking along the highway for about 500 metres we arrived at the nature trail. We walked on the Roman road that were mainly remnants of rock boulders with not so challenging up and down terrain.

We passed quite a few vineyards. It was a peaceful yet memorable walk on the trails.

21km later we arrived in Pontevedra in the early afternoon.

We visited the Church of Our Lady of the Pilgrims where our Camino Passports were stamped. We arrived at our Hotel Rias Bajas for a night’s stopover. We had time to explore the city of Pontevedra.
Notes: Redondela - a town of 30,000 inhabitants is most famous for its viaducts built in the 19th century and is known as the "Village of the viaducts."

Day 5: September 12, 2018 – From Pontevedra to Caldas de Reis

We left Pontevedra early on Wednesday, September 12, 2018. We noticed many more pilgrims on this day. From now onwards the pilgrims converge on the same path to Santiago de Compostela. The crowds dwindled down by the afternoon.

The sun was blazing down on us creating temperatures of 30 degrees C. It was unbearably hot. But with water/ice cream breaks we gradually reached our hotel, O Cruceiro Centre, in Caldas de Reis.
Notes: Pontevedra is a town of 80,000 inhabitants, with major transport links, shops, restaurants, and banks. The churches, architecture and Museum contain many depictions of St. James.

Day 6: September 13, 2018 – From Caldas de Reis to Padron

Today, September 13, 2018 we left Caldas de Reis for Padron—our last stop before walking into Santiago de Compostela. The walk to Padron was enjoyable with warm breezes making it an easy walk through the nature trails.
We stopped at the Church of Saint James of Padron.
This is the place where the apostolic boat brought the body of Saint James from ”Haffa” in Palestine. The stone inscription at the bottom of the altar commemorates this event. We made our way to our hotel for our overnight stop. We covered 21km. 
Notes: Caldas de Reis is a small town famous for its thermal waters. The town also boasts the church of St. Thomas a Becket, the only church in Galicia dedicated to the English Martyr.

Day 7: September 14, 2018 - From Padron to Santiago de Compostela

It was in the mid-afternoon of September 14, 2018 when our group walked into the Cathedral grounds of Santiago de Compostela. In the evening we attended the pilgrim‘s mass. At the end we witnessed the incense ceremony. WOW! That was a phenomenal experience. 

We felt blessed with a sense of accomplishment. We did it! We covered 126km in six days.

It was a memorable journey. I had a very good walking buddy, who in the heat of the moment would spot butterflies or stroke laurel leaves or I would smell the jasmine flowers along the way. There was sun and more sun throughout the journey. I suppose it was our penance. 

I received the Certificate/Seal of Approval inscribed in Latin upon completion of 126km.

My Nordic pole boot tips along with my peace stone are ”firmly” ensconced in Alameda Park just before the entrance to the Cathedral grounds. 
Notes: Padron is rich in the tradition of St. James. It is here that he is said to have begun his ministry and it is also here that it is said the boat carrying the body of St. James back to Spain was tied up.  Legend has it that the boat carrying the Saint's body was tied to the stone called the Pedron, which is displayed under the altar of Padron's church of Santiago.

Personal Reflections:

It was an amazing accomplishment of walking each day for a total of six days. Each time we entered the nature or dirt trails, I was at peace and assumed the reflective mode. The trek along the highways and streets were a bit disturbing that interrupted the peace of walking on the Camino.

When we walked into the Cathedral grounds, I felt nothing; it appeared to be a tourist trap. I felt disappointed and somewhat overwhelmed that there weren’t voices singing in my head or a sense of euphoria. There was something missing. There was definitely a sense of peace in the air. The various performers, hawkers, and shops selling a variety of souvenirs were clearly evident.

In conversation with some nuns, I was reminded that the Camino is a secular walk and that St. James didn’t walk this trek. Instead his followers or pilgrims walked the trek to Santiago de Compostela to embrace the statute of St. James and to receive the blessings from attending the Mass and sometimes be treated to the incense ceremony—this latter event was done occasionally and was meant to surprise the audience in attendance on that particular day.