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Archive for February 2010

‘Tis the Season To Be Reading

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Yesterday fooled us all. The Robins were chirping, the snow was receding and even I took a jaunt out to Central Park and Union Square to enjoy the fresh air that permeated the city. Although I kept hearing phrases like, “snow dump,” and “possible flurries and blizzards for the next few days” from the silly weathermen at Accuweather, I chose to ignore the signs and allow Spring to flirt shamelessly with me, even opening the window of my bedroom to let her spend a wonderfully romantic night.

This morning, I woke up to cold blankets and a chilly apartment. After having teased and used me, the whore had left, taking all her promised goodies with her. Yet, maybe I’ll give Winter another chance. After all, she looks breathtaking even from the view out my window into the garbage-strewn courtyard. While she cloaks the often ugly neighborhood in dazzling white, she also gives me a chance to cloak myself with my favorite clothes and my professional-looking coat given to me by my editor. No doubt, both Spring and Summer will bring forth sweaty armpits on the subway, unsightly legs under much too short of shorts and, worst of all, my sub par and downright sad collection of summer outfits.

Favorite reading spot in my Brooklyn apartment living room

In the meantime, the blustering cold and tricky sidewalks encourages me to stay in, giving me a chance to get comfy in the living room chair with a few books I’ve been wanting to read. Just recently, I finished Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants, two very different narrative styles, but both with a large focus on traveling. The latter, while fictional, peppers its plot with several actual events that have taken place in the course of circus history: the difficult and sometimes fatal career as a worker aboard a circus train, performance animal escapes,  and, even more grim, elephant executions by electrocution. There’s even an interesting Q & A at the end with the book’s author, who had never even been to a circus prior to her research for the novel.

On the other hand, Kerouac’s best known work had its appeal in a narrative not riding on trains with ferocious beasts and entertaining freaks, but on the long road from New York to “Frisco,” or San Francisco with several equally freaky and fascinating characters. His story focuses much on the sweaty and chaotic Dean Moriarty, a protagonist based on Kerouac’s friend, Neal Cassady. At times throughout the book, I did tire of the endless descriptions of hours spent driving back and forth on the road from coast to coast, Dean’s rash and often disruptive decisions during his short-lived cameos throughout the narrator’s travels, and the long and drawn out references to the realm of  jazz, something alluring, but altogether unfamiliar to me. Nevertheless, these elements were all vital to the story: the author showcased life on the go, its meaning to each character in the chaos of it all and ultimately, the progress and passage of Time and how it affects our decisions throughout our lives. It was fascinating how Kerouac attached you to each character by describing certain traits and quirks in the beginning and then show in the end where each one ended up and how each’s philosophies changed as he aged. Lastly, and something that might’ve been wasted on myself, Kerouac captured the essence of the West. He had no real home; in fact, all of America, or the world perhaps, was his home. Yet, where he always tended to gravitate toward was the West. As I’ve never been any farther than Louisiana, this point may have not been impressed upon me as much, but I was still able to comprehend the author’s love for the West’s rugged frontiers, the hard-working, humble and truly down-to-earth characters who inhabited it and how this area, with its seemingly endless expanses under a canopy of infinite night sky, represented the true American spirit, and perhaps even both the unfathomable insignificance and overwhelming beauty of the lives of humankind.

"You Are Here" by Christopher Potter

Currently, I’ve continued the theme of “Life, the Universe and everything in it,” by selecting two non-fiction reads, a little change-up but a promising one nonetheless. The first, “You Are Here,” by Christopher Potter, is certainly reminiscent of what I took out of Kerouac’s On The Road, attempting to detail the mind-boggling subject of where humans stand in the vast universe and how different philosophers and scientists have tried to explain our existence outside and even within the context of religion. I think I’m in for a delicious, but life crisis-inducing read.

My second pick may be just as much of a headache, but it details the history of my favorite subject, language. “Bill Bryson’s “The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way,” also tries to detail where things began in the history of mankind, but this time with the methods of communication.

"The Mother Tongue" by Bill Bryson

I feel this one deserves two read-throughs, as the first 30 pages are crammed with fascinating detail on the tentative origins of languages, how each became what they are today and how they compare to others. Some languages that we conceive as totally different from each other, I’ve learned, are really not too different, and in fact have sprouted from the same linguistic loins as one another. It’s an enthralling read even for those not interested in language, with enjoyable tidbits peppered in here and there, such as the fact that one language has a word for every kind of tree, but no word for just “tree.”

Once I finish these taxing tomes (Unnecessary alliteration, I know), I’d like to take on yet another fictional mind-burner, The Time Traveler’s Wife, followed by a slew of Ingmar Bergman movies and the promised mind-blowing Tim Burton film, Alice in Wonderland. So, while the chunky flakes continue to pile up on my doorstep and dissuade me from any lengthy outings, I say let them. For the love of books and movies, here’s a win for Winter.

Daytime in the Garden of Good and Evil

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St. John the Divine Cathedral with the Peace Fountain in the forefront

Far up the island on Manhattan, adjacent to the ornate and ominous St. John the Divine Cathedral, stone creatures worthy of a Grimm fairytale loom impressively atop a giant pedestal. Dwarfed by the impressive church, the Peace Fountain of the People’s Garden may not look like much, but on closer inspection, there’s more to it than meets the eye, mind and soul.

Chiseled to life in 1985 by sculptor Greg Wyatt, the statue symbolizes the struggle between good and evil, the latter being vanquished by the Archangel Michael. Circling the work of divine art, a random passerby may dismiss the secondary characters below and surrounding the winged Saint, but they are just as, if not more, important.

As the plaque nearby reads, the animals present in the scene signify a peaceful end of the battle between Heaven and Hell: Nine giraffes, animals of peace and innocence, are lovingly carved, while a lion and lamb coexist happily, harkening to the bible’s depiction of God’s Kingdom. Close by, the sun and the moon mirror one another facing east and west respectively, continuing the theme of life’s opposing forces. The crab crushed beneath the pedestal shows life’s origins from the sea, as well as its struggle to thrive.

Peace Fountain in the People's Garden

 A particularly prominent and grotesque sight hangs just below the freedom pedestal, a head frozen in agony and defeat. The decapitated body of Satan, conquered by the almighty sword of St. Michael, slithers down toward the statue’s base, where an observer can imagine water swirling in a primordial vortex that is the chaos and beginnings of Earth.

The small courtyard circling the fountain displays several tinier plaques, inscribed upon are the quotes by the world’s greatest and notable philosophers such as Gandhi, Socrates and Einstein. There is even a sole plaque devoted to John Lennon and has imprinted in its stone face verses from his song, “Imagine.” Hiding among the bushes on the opposite side of the plaza are smaller statues of knights, horses and other lore-like characters. Each was designed by an elementary school student and featured in the People’s Garden, otherwise now known as the Children’s Garden.

On my search for the elusive Peace Fountain due to its many monikers, I came across Kathika Travel Blog’s Beautiful Fountains from Across the World. Simply stunning.

Child's Statue Beside The Peace Fountain

Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

February 24, 2010 at 6:24 am