31 July 2012

Guest Post: Melody on Telegraph Avenue, Part II

I'd like to thank Melody from Fingers & Prose, for submitting this guest post about the real Telegraph Avenue. If you don't already know her wonderful and varied book blog, I'd encourage you to take a look!  I meant to run this last week, but I am afraid I forgot.  But it was a fortunate mistake, in that it's really more appropriate to run this week, which is the wrap-up discussion for Michael Chabon's forthcoming novel, Telegraph Avenue, in which that eponymous street ends the book at center stage, perhaps the most important and consistent character in the book. 

A Brief History of Telegraph Avenue (courtesy of a jaunt through Wikipedia)
The Fox Theatre is located on the southern
end of Telegraph Avenue (photo credit)

The actual naming and forming of Telegraph Avenue goes back quite far (for California.)  In 1859, a telegraph line was constructed in Oakland that followed the route of the present day Telegraph Avenue.  The streets which ran alongside it were renamed The Telegraph Road.  Ten years later, Oakland's first horsecar line was built along this road, and it eventually extended to the UC campus in Berkeley.  In time, the horsecar line became an electric streetcar line; the ease of transportation stimulated growth and development along the avenue. 

Over the next century [roughly], the neighborhoods along Telegraph began to develop and grow.  When the Sather Gate was completed in 1913, Telegraph Avenue and Allston Way became a spot for student rallies. It took on added significance as a 'Hyde Park' in the mid-1930s.

Further additions to the university campus and transportation infrastructure brought Telegraph Avenue through into the 1960s, when the Berkeley end became the site of many protests and riots.  This tumult caused the area to be known as a symbol of the counterculture of the time.

The large student (and otherwise transient) population has been joined more recently by large Korean, Ethiopian, and Eritrean populations, stimulating the eclectic assortment of restaurants and other businesses.
Rally to oppose military conscription: Berkeley, September 1940
A website devoted to the area says "Telegraph is renown for its cultural diversity."  Not only is the area packed with unique and ethnic restaurants, but the streets are lined with art murals and craft vendors.  From book and record shops to tattoo parlors and smoke shops, there are plenty of interesting things to spice up the more common mix of stores.

There are many sites devoted to different aspects of Telegraph Avenue, showing that it truly is an area that has made an impact on many people. (I enjoyed looking at the photography of Joe Samberg--including the b&w photo below--some of the subjects are controversial, but there were others that provided an interesting look at the political rallies and confrontations of days past.)  It is quite apparent why this area would stimulate an author's imagination.  Learning about the area has been fascinating; actually living there must add a whole other [living, breathing] dimension.
courtesy of Joe Samberg Photography

We're Gonna Rock Down To Telegraph Avenue: Part the Last, or Brokeland

So this week is the final installment in the Michael Chabon readalong, and I have to say that I am feeling a little bereft, both at the thought of the dissolving of the fellowship (that sounds vaguely Tolkien-like) and at the closing of the book. I am grateful to HarperCollins, Mr. Chabon himself, and his editor, for approving this unprecedented ARC readalong and providing the ARCs to all of us.

Part V, Brokeland, seemed a little more disjointed to me that the other sections of the book, with the possible exception of part I, where I was still having trouble keeping characters straight.  It starts out in media res, and while I think that works for the most part in the rest of the book, I wanted something more directly picking up where part IV left off.  I think it's a testament to how much I've come to feel for Chabon's characters that I don't want to miss out on the important things in their lives, so it's a little frustrating to learn that so many of the conversations I wanted to be privy to have occurred offstage.

I wasn't expecting a happy ending from Chabon, but what I got was an ending that was both realistic and satisfying in equal measure, and that says something, I suppose.  I won't go too much into the particulars of the plot, other than to acknowledge how good I thought the hospital scene and the final scene, up in the second floor room, were.

I didn't have particular expectations about Telegraph Avenue before I started it, other than I thought it would be fun to do a readalong with a not-yet-published novel, but I'm so glad that that is how I came to the book.  Without a group to discuss it each week,  to pick apart the good, the bad, & the extraordinary, I might have given up on it.  I don't usually like to work that hard on my fiction, but Chabon made me reach and stretch to accommodate his book and I think I'm a better reader for it. Now that I'm on the other side of it, I find my mind going back to those characters and wanting to live in their world a little longer.

It's impossible to really summarize a book like this one, where the plot points meander or even happen offstage and where the characters are so varied and rich, or where the location becomes a character in and of itself--or maybe even a metaphor for what Chabon is doing.  So I'll just share with you the short blurb I wrote for something we call a "shelf tag" in my bookstore, where it will become part of my shelf in the Staff Favorites section:

The best fiction reflects not only how the world is, but what its reality could be. Chabon's latest (and greatest) novel, while ostensibly about race in the 21st century, is really a cross-section of America itself and a peek into the real American Dream. Chock full of pop cultural references that will keep the curious reader Googling, and imbued with the creole rhythms of music from the world over, it shows that our differences don't always have to divide us and that the "apartheid of consciousness" that pervades our nation can, in fact, be overcome.

I'll conclude, as usual with some of my favorite passages, but first a question: was anybody really surprised to learn the name of the new tenant next to the King of Bling? I smiled rather broadly when I read that.

"There was nothing a man couldn't do with three thousand dollars and a suitcase full of canned tuna fish and pregnancy bras."

"Valletta rocked back. Wavering in her resolve. Knowing she should make good on her threat and go, but trained by the Pavlovian bell of love to confuse contempt with affection and indifference with reserve."  God, so true of so many women I know.

The whole metaphor of whites & blacks and the pedestal of the world = backs of elephants and a turtle (which is either Mayan or from Terry Pratchett, or possibly both).  It's too long to excerpt here, but the concluding sentence is both defeatist and humorous: "It just turned out that a tower of elephants and turtles was no way to try to hold up a world."

"Nat might have felt ashamed of the self-pity in which he currently wallowed, if self-pity knew any shame."

"'Pissing on a zeppelin,' Nat said, regretting bitterly the loss of this opportunity. 'Why didn't I think of that?'"

If you're following this readalong and are intrigued by our discussion, please consider pre-ordering your book here.

Please note that if the Linky List closes before you've had a chance to post, you should just add a link to your post to the comments section.

P. S. The guest post I promised last week from Melody went up this week--it's the post that is one newer than this one, or just click here

28 July 2012

Sunday Funday in Anguilla

Okay, y'all, the further away in time that I get from my trip, the harder it is to remember what we did and in what order, but I'm pretty sure this is all more or less correct, based on the time stamps from my photos.  Ha!

We love Smokey's, but we tend to avoid it on Saturdays when the crowds show up and the music plays, so Sunday seemed like the perfect time to hie ourselves there.  After breakfasting at home and enjoying the morning on Barnes Bay, we headed over to Cove Bay, probably one of our top favorite beaches on the island: another perfectly long crescent of white sand, with just enough of a peak of St. Martin in the distance and a few fishing boats to provide visual interest.  Because it can be SO tiresome pondering the sea and the horizon.  Know what I mean?  Yeah, me neither!

It was quiet when we arrived, with only one other table being occupied (incidentally, by the Blanchards), so we had our pick of the place.  We settled into a shady spot with some cold Tings and a large bottle of fizzy water because it was pretty hot and rather still and we weren't quite ready to order lunch. Both Mo and Felix came by to check on us, remembering us from previous visits, and so did the the owner of Koal Keel (uh, oh--I didn't write down her name.  I want to say it started with either a K or an K. Lisa, perhaps?) to thank us for having breakfast there the other day and for blogging about it.  She'd been reading the blog and apologized that her website hadn't been updated to reflect their closing dates.  We had a nice visit with her, hearing about Anguilla in the Old Days.

Mo's rum punch--strong, but a little too sweet for my taste. 
We noticed when we pulled up to Smokey's that there was a large white tent set up outside on the sand, so a little while later when the music started up, we were less surprised than we would have been.  I have to say, it was pretty nice being there with the music, and I'm glad we didn't know about it ahead of time because we probably wouldn't have gone, and thus would have missed a very enjoyable lunch. To wit: one hotdog, one grilled veggie sandwich, one rum punch, and the best damned book I read on the entire trip (The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.  Review forthcoming).

The public access point to Cove Bay
We stayed until about 3:00 or so, and by that time the white tent had filled, and so had most of the tables, both inside and out. It was still pretty hot, so we headed back to Rendezvous Bay for a swim and a walk along the beach there to enjoy the stronger breezes there. We set up near the grouping of sea grapes that separates Anguilla Great House from the Sunshine Shack (alas, closed), made friends with another dog, and enjoyed the rest of the day.

Rendezvous Bay
A storm came up around 5:00, though, so we decided to pack up and head back so we could clean up for cocktails at Viceroy--we were heading out to meet CloudyDae and her husband, who were visiting Anguilla for the first time.  The storm passed, but clouds lingered in the sky for a rather hazy sunset, but Viceroy kind of overloads you with visual stimulation anyway, so it was all good.  We arrived about 6:15, so that there would be plenty of time (and plenty of light) before sunset for me to make some photos of the property before meeting up with CloudyDae, because while the Viceroy may not be my first choice of places to stay on Anguilla, it's pretty spectacular--the formality of the lines & the architecture, the objets d'arts scattered around, the sheer, luxe comfort of the furnishings--it all adds up to a place that, while not giving off an Anguilla vibe, gives off a pretty nice vibe nonetheless.

A Giacometti-like sculpture at the Viceroy bar
After shooting a few pics, we bellied up to the bar to order a round of cocktails, where the prices are not for the faint of heart--I think it cost us $36 for two gin & tonics--but at least they give you snacks.  In our case, some edamame and plantain chips with a spicy fruit chutney. Before too long, in walked CloudyDae and Mr. CloudyDae, looking tired but happy after another full day in the sun.  We exchanged notes about all of our trip highlights and settled in to watch the sunset together from the patio.

Here's a pic of CloudyDae and me.  Not sure what the moon-like thing in the upper corner is.

Sunset over the Viceroy villas

Caribella, seen from the Viceroy
Before we knew it, we were about to be late for our reservations at Straw Hat for dinner, so we parted with regret and made out way down to Meads Bay. That place is such fun--we just love the staff, who seem to enjoy working there as much as we love dining there, and Peter is always such a great host.  When we arrived, it was to hear Peter patiently trying to explain to the wedding guests who had booked the entire Frangipani for the weekend that they needed to make a reservation for his restaurant, especially if it was a large party, and that the empty tables they saw on the patio were reserved for people who called ahead.  Like us. On cue, we stepped forward and he showed us to our table, right on the patio's edge closest to the water.

We usually order the crayfish and stewed goat but opted to think outside of our local/comfort boxes this time around, to great success.  DH selected the pork belly, which is an item the new chef has introduced to the menu, while I opted for the crispy snapper.

Why, yes, that IS a bed of rich, creamy mac & cheese underneath that pork!

A truly crispy snapper
Both of them were excellent and we each kept trying to create a diversion (think: Princess Bride) so we could stick a fork undetected into the other's plate until we felt it would be better to just have Peter roll us back to our car.  I think we even skipped dessert that night, though that definitely seems out of character for us.  And by us, I mean me.  Perhaps I filled up on their unrivaled Ti Punch, which ties with the Ferryboat's for best rum punch on the island for me, and that is affecting my memory even in retrospect.  It doesn't really matter, I guess, but what I do recall is how quiet we were after dinner that night, because we knew that when we woke up the next morning, it would be our last full day on Anguilla.

Coming up next: Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down

23 July 2012

We're Gonna Rock Down To Telegraph Avenue: Readalong Parts III & IV

Welcome to the pre-publication Telegraph Avenue readalong! This week we'll be tackling sections III, A Bird of Wide Experience, and IV, Return to Forever.  If you're joining in for the first time today, you may want to consider checking out our discussions of sections I and II from previous weeks.

Okay, so I'm just gonna go ahead and say it: I was at least halfway through A Bird of Wide Experience before I realized that the entire section was only one sentence long.  Sure, there were a few semi-colons; but really, it was a section that would do an author like Jose Saramago, William Faulkner, or Cormac McCarthy proud.  I'm not sure how long it would have taken me to notice the sentence-long section if I hadn't been looking for a stopping place in my reading so I could leave for work!  The writing is beautiful ("If sorrow is the consequence of pattern spoiled, then the bird was grieving..."), and getting the literal bird's-eye view of all of the characters and their environs was a real treat.  I loved getting the sensory experiences of Fifty-Eight, the liberated African Grey parrot as it winged its way over Telegraph Avenue, connecting the myriad characters, locations, and storylines in one fell swoop.

Sidebar: African Greys are fascinating and devastatingly intelligent animals.  I lived with one for about year when my husband's daughter and her menagerie shared housespace with us.  I want to see more of this Fifty-Eight.

Moving on to part four, we see Archy at his best and worst. I completely cringed at his lashing out at Julie & Titus, and then my heart broke wide open for him with his execution of the funeral (not to mention the near-misses). Damnit, I don't want to feel sympathy for this guy, but Chabon somehow is capable of making me feel it nonetheless.  I may not love Archy, but I have a soft spot for imperfect characters whose endless foibles seem to result from one bad decision and then cascade from there.

Luther Stallings: Damn, but I thought he might be some kind of lynchpin around which much of this story would revolve, directly or indirectly. Now the plot thickens and I find myself bizarrely hoping that somehow he *will* find the money to produce his last film. Kickin' it old school, indeed.

Titus & Julie: Damn, boys. Fools, the both of you. Tailing cars, eavesdropping, misunderstanding, petty thefts, all of which, no doubt, will come back to bite them in the you-know-where.

Gwen: Getting her own back at the inquest. Life is full of reversals, but I'm perversely more interested in her personal life and how she is going to deal with the cheating man-child husband, all on the eve of giving birth.

Aviva: Trying to get through to Archy, trying to convince him that her devotion to midwifery is strong enough to risk imprisonment, should things come to that.  I like this woman and I wish we got to see a lot more of her. Her policy of "what do I know about being black?"  [or insert "other"ness of choice here] is not a bad repurposing of the worn out adage about walking a mile in someone's shoes.

Cochise Jones and the leisure suit of destiny.  Cracked me up. 

Finally, some choice passages:

"[The Mary Janes] had the charm of cement and the elegance of cinder blocks, but they held her feet without pain or structural failure, and it seemed to her that the librarian-nun vibe they exuded was also not incompatible with the kicking of ass."

"Titus was about to say 'It's your father' but, at the last instant, realized it might sound like he was saying Luther Stallings was shit. When, to the contrary, Luther Stallings at one time had stood in full possession of a definite article, not to mention two capital letters. Was most definitely The Shit."

"'But I will mention, when black folks and Jews feed a crowd, you know many chickens will die.'"

"'Seems like, I don't know. When people start looking at other people, people not like them, one thing they often end up liking about those people is their music.'"

"She had hoisted every sail to catch the rising wind of her panic; there was no telling what bleak tropic she might yet strike."

"Titus showed nothing but scorn for Archy and had never said anything remotely to the effect that he had a hole in his heart in the shape of his father, but like an astronomer with an exoplanet, Julie could infer that hole's presence from distortions in the field around Titus."

"'Black midwife standing up for herself to a bunch of white doctors, that makes it a mau-mau?'
'I don't have a problem with mau-mauing,' Nat said. 'It's a valid techinique.'
'I'm glad to hear that,' Archy said. 'Black folk been holding off on the mau-mauing lately, till we got a ruling from you.'"

Onward to part V, Brokeland, next week.  If you're enjoying our little readalong of Telegraph Avenue, please pre-order it here. It will be published in September by HarperCollins.

17 July 2012

We're Gonna Rock Down To Telegraph Avenue: The Church of Vinyl

Are you a member of good standing in the church of vinyl? Welcome to the pre-publication discussion of Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.  Harper Collins is sponsoring this readalong and has provided all of the participants with either digital or physical ARCs.  But if our discussion of this book sounds more amazing that you'd ever dreamed of, you can pre-order a copy of the book here.

So, would now be a good time to confess that I read part two so many weeks ago that it's mostly a dim memory.  And because I'm not always as smart as I'd like to be, I didn't pre-write my review to post back then.  So I'm mostly going to take a backseat this week and let y'all take it away.

But before I say anything about the second section of this book that just keeps growing on me, I want to mention that the lovely & charming Melody from Fingers & Prose has written something for our readalong, despite the fact that she's not participating in it.  Actually, she has written two: one of which will appear this week, and one of which will appear next week. How groovy does that make her?  Her mini-essay is the new blogpost below/after this one (or just click here), so please check it out! 

Okay, discuss: Who was cheering during the Gwen-gives-the-apology scene? Best non-apology since Anne of Green Gables. 

Cameo appearance of Obama: cool or corny?

Why don't more people have dirigibles?  I mean, obviously, aside from the dangerous combustibility.  They don't seem outrageously more dangerous than hot air balloons or the various high-intensity sports that the kids these days seem into.  (Called a zeppelin in the book, Chabon's term for the Dogpile airship is apparently used erroneously--since Zeppelin is a brand name, a manufacturer, and I somehow don't think it's become common usage the way the way Kleenex has for facial tissue.)

In other news, the characters overall are really starting to mesh for me, not just Julie, the kid I want to perpetually hug.  I love the layers--maybe because I'm also reading a book on art right now, it's influencing the way I see things--but the story is like an old oil painting, with layer upon layer of lacquer, with the darks getting darker with each layer, and the lights getting brighter, more luminous, as the canvas reflects back through the lacquer.  To the point where the craftsmanship disappears and all you're left with is a gorgeous composition.

My goodness: the whole section describing Nat's adventures frying chicken in the kitchen, whilst reminiscing of his stepmama?  Priceless.  Truly priceless.

What else did I love? I wouldn't say that I'm prepared to like Gibson Goode, but I thought his holding forth on the world of black music was very interesting. But oh, Archy, please think long and hard before you take that job offer.

 Some favorite/interesting passages:

"An apology...it was a beautiful thing, no a miracle of language. Cost you nothing and returned so richly." (in a redux from the previous section) and then, on a related note, "Her apology was, as apologies so often are, fighting words. She was sorry only that she was not sorry at all." Both of these passages are so true.

"Archy already feeling crowded enough by the marital silence that at present filled the whole vehicle, knowing perfectly well, with all the almanack sagacity the word "husband" implied, that the present silence was more portent than aftermath. A formulating stillness. That pressure drop, brooding and birdless, right before the touchdown of a tornado."

"'You got a trio," she said to Leslie, "Plus one pregnant lady in a bowling shirt."

"This was in compliance with Aviva Roth-Jaffe's official policy on outrage, which was that, even when justified, it was an ineffective tool."

"She carried her pregnancy like a football tucked into the crook of a fullback's arm, invisibly, and with aplomb.  Whereas Gwen's body was more like an Einsteinian force, warping the fabric of space-time as she moved through it."

"It was not easy, dressed in skanky b-ball shorts and a Captain EO sweatshirt with cutoff sleeves, but Archy dived down deep and hauled up all the dignity he could snap oloose from the sea bottom of his soul."

16 July 2012

Guest Post: Melody introduces us to Telegraph Avenue

I am so pleased to introduce my first guest blogpost, courtesy of Melody, the genius behind the wonderful blog, Fingers & Prose, which is one of my favorite bookblogs. She is familiar with the part of the world circumscribing Chabon's new book, and though she's not participating in the pre-publication reading of Telegraph Avenue, she's been cheering us along the way.  This week she dug up this "tour" on the interwebs, that we might visualize the environs we're reading about.  I hope you find it as interesting as I did! 

A Tour of Telegraph Avenue, Courtesy of the Author Himself
(photo credit)
Michael Chabon wrote a bit for The Atlantic about Telegraph Avenue (both the book he wrote and the place he lives) and the unique quality of home.  After talking about his hometown (Berkeley) he asks, "Is your "hometown" only, ever, the place where you grew up?"

I love that question.  We tend to talk about our hometowns being the places we grew up, but reality is more complex...and the answer is likely to be somewhat different depending on the person.  In any case, I'm a fan of authors writing about what's near and dear to them, and this certainly seems to be the case with the forthcoming Telegraph Avenue.  Don't believe me? Get a hold of this description:
"The real Telegraph Avenue runs straight as a steel cable, changing its nature more or less completely every ten blocks or so, from the medical-marijuana souks of Oaksterdam, past the former Lamp Post bar where Bobby Seale used to hang out (now called Interplay Center, where you can "unlock the wisdom of your body"), past Section 8 housing and the site of a founding settlement of the native Ohlone people at the corner of 51st Street, past the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library and Akwaba Braiding and a buttload of Ethiopian restaurants, ending in an august jangle at the gates of the Cal campus, and I guess that for a guy who likes hanging around the borderlands--between genres, cultures, musics, legacies, styles--the appeal of Telegraph lies in the way it reflects a local determination to find your path irrespective of boundary lines, picking up what you can, shaking off what you can, along the way. But can you claim a home in a nameless place, at the edge of a wandering border?"  (from The Atlantic)
So that's how he describes it, but what if you wanted to see more?  If your one wish happened to be that Michael Chabon would take you on a tour of this eclectic, inspiring hometown of his, where would he take you?  Fortunately for you, he's anticipated this wish, and you'll be left in agony no longer.  (Or, to be more exact, UC Berkeley has anticipated this wish and did the leg-work for you.)  Here's the itinerary:
  • On and around … take in a show at the Fox Theater, dinner at Flora. 
  • Check out InterPlay, former site of the Lamp Post Tavern, the Black Panther bar, wish I was still young enough to hang at the Stork Club. 
  • Pick up a box of Melona creamsicles at Koreana Plaza, eat them. 
  • Mourn Neldam’s. 
  • Cut right on 40th to check out new/old arrivals at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records. 
  • Marvel at the Houdini-esque splendor of the locking merchandise for sale at Reed Bros. 
  • Go to Depot for Creative Reuse. 
  • Burma Superstar! Pizzaiolo, my family’s favorite restaurant, or, depending on time of day, Bakesale Betty for a chicken sandwich. 
  • Stop in at Clars Auction Gallery to see what crazy shit is for sale this week. 
  • Admire the wistful fading splendor of the skin diver on the sign of Steele’s Discount Scuba. 
  • Consider the possibility of revolution at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library. 
  • Then leap on up to the campus end of things, to check in on Moe’s, Amoeba, and Shakespeare & Co. 
  • If my elder son is with me, Top Dog.

Oh, don't you want to go?  And if a list of places can be so exciting and descriptive, a dose of Chabon's writing should transport you directly there.  Enjoy the ride!

(photo and text credit)
"If you ever traveled through Berkeley in the 60's, you can come back to Telegraph Avenue today and close your eyes, open them and transport yourself back in time. Telegraph Avenue will give you the feeling that time has stood still - the colorful street vendors are still in full color as are many of the locals on the street. Get yourself a tattoo or just sit outside at a cafe and watch the people - it's the best. However, Telegraph Avenue is home to some of the best book and music stores in the world - Rasputin & Amoeba as well as Cody's and Shakespeare & Co. You can even go mainstream and shop at the GAP or buy a cookie at Mrs. Fields. But, if you want a fun afternoon of colorful shopping, make a trip to Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley."

14 July 2012

Anguilla: None But Ourselves Can Free Our Minds

Would you believe that at only two weeks removed from my vacation that I can hardly remember what we did on which day?  I didn't make any notes during vacation because I started out blogging as I went along.  When reading, work, and real life started interfering with that, I got a little lost...so these last few days might be less wordy than usual (I can hear y'all already, giving thanks to whatever powers that be).

So, Saturday.  We tend to avoid "the" places to be on any given day, which means we don't do Gwen's on Sundays, or Smokey's on Saturdays, or any other place when live music is on the menu.  Not because we don't like people (we do. at least most of 'em), and not because we don't like music (we do. at least most of it), but because my beloved DH has difficulty hearing.  Live music tends to put a cramp on any conversation we might wish to have, and as we actually still really like each other, and like knowing what the other has to say, we avoid live music venues for the most part. Thus, we decided to spend our last Saturday on the island at Elodia's for a quiet but beautiful beach day.

A sweet, abandoned church, not the one mentioned below
We ate breakfast at home and reached Shoal Bay East around 10:00 that morning, after having passed through town to see a crowd, the likes of which we'd never seen before on Anguilla, amassing by the Anglican church.  Folks dressed up in their best duds, food tents pitched on the grounds--we knew it was playing host to either the happiest or saddest of occasions.  While we hoped it was for a wedding, it was, in fact, the funeral for the young man who'd been murdered just before our arrival on the island.

Sobering thought, that.  As it turns out, Carole arrived at Elodia's early and tuned the radio in to the live broadcast of the funeral, so we listened to the preacher (normally in an Anglican church, I'd say "priest," but his booming and lilting cadence was pure preacher) conduct the service with unshed tears in our eyes.  We didn't know the young man who was murdered, nor did we know the circumstances surrounding the crime, but I defy anybody to sit there in that singularly beautiful place and not be moved.  The juxtaposition of such a hateful crime with the peace that we've come to associate with Anguilla was sobering.  I didn't know most of the hymns that were sung, but I joined in with Carole, sotto voce,  on the first verse and chorus of It Is Well With My Soul, and again for a surprisingly cheerful rendition of I'll Fly Away. That is, when I could sing around the lump in my throat.

I'm using this photo for transitional purposes....
We read for the next couple of hours, the silence broken in the end only by our rumbly bellies, when we made our way up to the pavilion for our usual table--the one in corner, up on the dais, which is the breeziest table in the whole location.  Believe me, we've had plenty of opportunity to test them out.  Not wanting to wait for the fresh bbq chicken or ribs, we opted for two orders of the grilled fish sandwich--I think it was smelling the previous order being prepared for somebody else that triggered our hunger. 

The fish sandwiches were good--not great, but good, solid sandwiches--served with fries, cole slaw, and a small green salad.  The accompanying tartar sauce was quite good, and passionfruit daiquiris (both virgin and non-virgin) were excellent.  They're the biggest ones on Shoal Bay East, for the least amount of money, and Carole also gave me a generous pour of rum on top of mine, to boot.

Saying goodbye to Carole
We spent the next few hours there, reading, walking on the beach, and swimming in that unbelievably gorgeous water, before packing our bags and saying good-bye to Carole, who's a real sweetie and takes great care of us whenever we spend the day there.  Once home, we quickly clean up for an early dinner at SandBar.  Since it was (a) Saturday and they don't take reservations and (b) we wanted to see the sunset from the restaurant's deck, we got there pretty early.

The lantern next to our table
We knew from previous experiences at various Sandy Ground locations that the bugs can be simply awful there, so we pre-emptively loaded up on bug repellent and chose a table for two on the deck.  Settling in with a most refreshing cocktail involving fresh watermelon juice, gin, and basil, we watched as the sun continued its downward progression, but again, it was a fairly subdued sunset.  Our whole trip, we didn't see a single sunset that had the glorious span of colors, nor one that it was possible to see the Green Flash. Alas.

The food was only pretty good (alas, we've never had a great experience there), but the value sure is worth writing home about! We shared the honeyed cayenne carrots with pinenuts (asked for no cilantro, was told it wasn't a problem, yet there it was in the dish anyway), a shrimp salsa (ditto), crispy beef wontons (these were quite good), and the beer battered fish (ditto). When mentioning to our server that our food did, in fact, have elements that we'd specifically asked not to have, she apologized and then told us that the dishes actually couldn't be made without cilantro.  Well, fine, but it would have been better to know that before ordering, now wouldn't it? We made do, because by the time the food was in front of us, the Pavlovian response to eat was too strong to delay sending it back or ordering something else.

Luckily for us, there was free entertainment for the night--shortly after sunset, four boys and their families came down to the beach in front of us with four beautifully carved wooden sailboats.  They played in the water, swimming after the wayward boats while learning how the wind played in the sails.  I'd never seen anything like that before and I was completely captivated.

It's a good thing, too, that we had something to distract ourselves with, because by this time, there were clouds of bugs swarming everywhere.  Gnats, I think they were--thank goodness nothing of the biting or stinging variety!  They apparently were also the kind of bug that is impervious to OFF!, because they crawled all over our skin and clothes. They got so bad that a staff member from SandBay walked out to the deck and turned out all of the lights in an effort to attract fewer of them.  We hurriedly asked for the check instead of staying for dessert, and as we scurried to the car, I paused to count the bugs on my husband's shirt. Let me put it this way: I stopped counting at 100.  Note to self: if arriving at SandBar for sunset meal, dine inside where the ceiling fans are, not out on the deck. We don't normally shower after dinner, but both of our skin felt so crawly after our experience that we had to wash the night off of us. 

One of the lounge/seating areas at SandBar

Our sunset at SandBar

10 July 2012

We're Gonna Rock Down To Telegraph Avenue: Dream of Cream

Where to even begin? This book has a LOT going on, so I'll start with the easy mark.  Did anybody read the epigraph and its attribution?  I think I actually snorted a beverage through my nose when I read it.  I wasn't expecting the book to have as much humor as it does, but it's not constant;  it kind of sneaks up on you.

Okay, a few things: I occasionally had trouble keeping up with the cast of characters, remembering which nickname or diminutive went with each formal name.  Did that hold true with any of you?

I was also struck with the desire to see if there were any blaxploitation films on Netflix livestreaming that I could check out.  I've never seen one, but I love the word blaxploitation.  I think it might be the unexpected "x," because I also love the word juxtaposition.

Did anybody else notice that the Harper logo on the spine of the book is not their usual one with the hand and the torch?  They swapped it out for the Black Power fist. Publishers usually aren't too keen with messing around with their logos, but I kinda love it when they do.  Subtle but good. (As an aside, I think my favorite was Knopf with Geek Love--they gave their usual Borzoi an extra leg in honor of that book.)

Also, and I'm not sure what to do with this, or if things will change in the next sections, but it seems to me that Chabon is using rather more racial stereotypes in his characters than I would have expected in a book that is ostensibly about the exploration of race in contemporary America.

Then again, maybe he's just playing around with things and all will be made clear by the end. After all, I, myself, missed a piece of racist invective in part of the dialogue the first time I read it.  Possibly because I didn't know what the phrase "conking your hair" meant, and at the time I had trouble remembering Gwen from Aviva; possibly because as person whose skin has privileged her, I've never had to be aware of that. 

But now I know what it means to conk your hair. And that when something is bangin' it's a good thing. Yes, that's a glimpse into my circumscribed life.

That being said, when I'm not confusing which characters are which, or wondering why it's the black guy and not the white guy who is afraid of having children and can't keep his bidness in his pants, I'm totally drawn in to this novel.  Never having visited California, the setting seems impossibly exotic to me.  And of course the underdog used record store vs. the megastore is one that hits uncomfortably close to home. (aside: I mean, really, who can take seriously something called a Dogpile Thang?) Then, too, there are some seriously beautiful, humorous, and/or insightful phrases in the book.

Here are some of my favorite lines/passages from the book:

"The baby, understanding perhaps that it was purely rhetorical, made no attempt to answer this question."

"Thirty years too old, twenty pounds too light, forty watts too dim..."

"From the lowest limb of a Meyer lemon, a wind chime searched without urgency for a melody to play."

"The fog had burned off, leaving only a softness, as tender as a memory from childhood, to blur the sunlight that warmed the sprawl of rosemary and purple salvia along the fragrant sidewalk and fell in shifting shafts through the branches of the monkey-puzzle tree."

"Most of all, he was tired of being a holdout, a sole survivor, the last coconut hanging on the last palm tree on the last atoll in the path of the great wave of late-modern capitalism, waiting to be hammered flat."  Holy shit, but does that feeling ever sound familiar!

Does book sound fabulous? If so, you can pre-order your copy here because it's being published in September from Harper

07 July 2012

Last Month in Review: June 2012

I'm a little later than usual with my last month wrap-up, but I was vacationing at the turn of the month, and when I came back to work yesterday on 5 July, there was a LOT of catching up to do.  While I read more than my usual monthly average, I read much less than usual during my vacation so the numbers look a little wonky to me.  There's also no audio book because I started one in June, but then came BEA and then two weeks of vacation and thus I'm still listening to it in my car.  I will definitely conquer it by the end of July, though.  On the upside, I read more nonfiction this month than usual because I finished off a couple of good ones that I'd started earlier in the year. 

Books read in June, in chronological order:

1. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. And since it looks like I haven't reviewed it yet, here's a mini-one: A tremendously moving and thought-provoking piece of narrative nonfiction. It's just nigh on impossible to imagine the world that Boo presents us, a world where lives are held so cheaply and religious conviction so dearly that a Hindu woman can reasonably choose to set herself on fire to frame her Muslim neighbors for her murder. Where corruption is not just a fact of life, but institutionalized, the warp and the woof of the civic fabric. Where children are hit by cars on the side of the road and left for dead because it's not convenient to help them, and where it behooves the police to rule their cases as death-by-tuberculosis in their reports. I honestly don't know what more I can say about it, other than it's appalling for me to sit in my middle class splendor and ponder the impossible conditions to which we abandon our fellow humans.

2.  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. As a self-identified introvert, I found this book particularly compelling (and self-justifying).

3. & 4.  Anything But Ordinary by Lara Avery and Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. YA novels, reviewed here in a double-header.

5. A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez.  Probably my favorite non-fiction of the month, reviewed here.

6. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin.  A really impressive debut novel that hopefully I'll review soon.

7. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.  Oh, my goodness.  What a terrific reading experience. Reviewed here.

8. The Last Warner Woman by Kei Miller.  Another book of Caribbeana, very interesting narrative structure.  Reviewed here.

9. Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal.  Totally fun bit of historical fiction featuring a smart & feisty heroine (no point in having any other kind, eh?). Review forthcoming.

10. The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood.  Probably the book I liked least from my vacation reading.  Almost gave up reading it several times. 

11. Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell.  Another bit of historical fiction, this time a book that purports to explain the political mess in the Middle East, as a result of political borders laid down by the mighty western empires post-WWI.  Less fluffy than #9, but interestingly enough featuring Winston Churchill as a secondary character.

12. Schroder by Amity Gaige. Her writing just gets better and better.

13. On the Outside, Looking Indian by Rupinder Gill.  My fourth (!) book of nonfiction for the month, this memoir shares one woman's efforts to recapture the "normal" childhood she feels she missed out on, growing up as an Indian in Canada.

14. Repeat After Me by Rachel DeWoskin.  Funny enough novel but mildly disappointing after loving the author's latest book, Big Girl Small.

It's out of order, but I wanted to include this graphic because I think it's so eye-catching:

06 July 2012

Anguilla: Time Is Running Out...

Friday dawns bright and clear--I've rarely seen Barnes Bay look so sparkling!  Perhaps the likkle bit of overnight showers has made a difference.  We mostly laze around in the morning, breakfasting on our yummy leftover banana and pumpkin breads from Veya the night before. I am *so* glad that we asked for the breads to be wrapped up for takeaway and I will make sure I do this every future visit. Coffee and a homemade passionfruit-mango-seltzer concoction complete the meal. 

Our day of departure looms ever-near, so instead of traipsing around today, we take a page out of Robert Herrick's book to make much of time by staying "home" and reading on the balcony until we're ready to tackle lunch.  I know, it's hard living that way, but somebody has to do it. We choose Jacala, mostly because it's a pleasant setting and I love an item on their menu that is only available for the midday meal: the grilled watermelon & goat cheese salad.

I love the crisp, white interior

View of Meads Bay from Jacala

How clever that I color-coordinated my book with the ice tea and place mat!
I remember it from our first visit to Jacala shortly after they opened, which must be a little over two years ago now, but the last two times we were there for dinner and thus it wasn't available.  I'm not sure it's an exaggeration to say that it had been haunting my dreams in the interim. Alas, I must have built it up in my mind a little too much, for while it was very good, it fell short of sublime.  I think, perhaps, that my expectations were unfairly high, but it also seemed a little different this time. The great textures were just as I recalled, but the flavors and temperatures were less distinct.  What used to be a bed of arugula was now mixed greens, and where there used to be a thick, rich balsamic reduction was now just a vinaigrette. 

Grilled watermelon & goat cheese salad

A far-from-pedestrian burger & fries

Mint panna cotta
Still, it was a good lunch, and I think anybody would forgive me for snitching my DH's French fried potatoes while he wasn't looking because they were the best thing on the table that day--perfectly seasoned wedges of the most delicious potatoes. To make up for it, the dessert was perhaps better than I remembered, and that's saying something: the wonderful mint panna cotta with papaya marmalade and chocolate meringue drop.  The server was also kind enough to provide a taste of the soursop sorbet, which we had debated trying. I thought the soursop sorbet was surprisingly creamy, but also surprisingly bland, so I was happy not to have ordered it. Lunch came to around $50 for one bottle of water, one salad, one burger, one dessert, and two iced teas, plus additional gratuity. Jacala isn't exactly moderate when it comes to lunch, but we do like it there.

Jacala now offers these beach chairs & umbrellas
There's also a hammock for one lucky patron
Looking east from Jacala toward Carimar, etc

Interior shot of the bar at Jacala
Comfy lounge space if you arrive early and your table isn't ready yet
We lingered there for a while over our iced tea and our books, enjoying the setting, if not quite the ambience--the music was decidedly schizophrenic and loudly intrusive. Seriously, I made notes about the music at one point so I could mention it in my blogpost. Here's a partial playlist: "She Drives Me Crazy" by the Fine Young Cannibals, a soul/disco montage that included excerpts from "I Will Survive, " "I Believe in Miracles," and "Car Wash," followed by "Memories" from Cats. I kid you not. Still, Meads Bay looked very pretty and besides the chairs set up in front of Carimar and Blanchards Beach Shack, it looked mostly deserted.  Can't say that I blame anybody--it was scorchingly hot there on Meads that day, with very little breeze...

Salt pond. Note the white salt foam gathering at the edge.
...which is why we departed around 2:30 for the breezier Rendezvous Bay.  We set up under a couple of palm trees to watch the world go by while we turned our pages.  Before long, we made a particular friend.  He was absolutely sweet and every 15 minutes or so, he'd shift his body to get more woogies from the other one of us. 

We saw all kinds of fauna that afternoon, including one quite large and one quite small:
I knew there was at least one stable on Anguilla but I'd never seen a horse on the beach before.

After a few hours there, we rode back to Caribella for a swim and to clean up before dinner.  Since lunch was on the splurge-y side, we returned to Blanchards Beach Shack.  I have to say, I'm very pleased with that place.  The women at the window were so cheery and helpful with questions about the menu, the food is both tasty and reasonably priced, and the setting is cool and welcoming.  We had heard complaints that the portions were small, particularly as pertains to their tacos, but the three mini tacos were just the right size for me. It's exactly what Meads Bay has been lacking: a casual and inexpensive-to-moderate beach bar where you can eat with your toes in the sand. We made it there right at sunset, and wouldn't you know it--it turns out to be the only colorful sunset in our entire vacation, and we were there without my husband's good camera.

Sunset at Blanchards

Twilight & twinkling fairy lights
A word to the wise: once the sun sets, the mosquitos come out in full force on Meads. Though we had applied some OFF! before we left home, there were enough mozzies buzzing around us that we left earlier than we otherwise would have. A second word to the wise: if you have a cilantro aversion, stay away from their tacos and their fresh corn salad.  We asked for no cilantro when we ordered, but I don't think they understood the request. I picked out the biggest pieces of cilantro from the tacos, but it would have been futile to pick out the rest of it.  DH's fried shrimps were good, though, and we both loved the tomato-tartar sauce that Blanchards makes. Two Red Stripes, two cups of fro-yo, and a bag of chocolate chip cookies to go (they were just coming out of the oven as we placed our order, and we would've been fools not to add them) brought our total to somewhere in the $35-40 range.

We even turned on the television that night, something we rarely do on vacation, and watched some of the US Olympics trials for swimming.  We'd gotten in so early (7:15 or so) that we didn't want to read right away because we fall asleep pretty quickly when we read in bed.  While eating those wonderful cookies that were still warm & a little gooey, and sipping some whiskey, we channel surfed and discovered the Anguilla channel and watched that for a little while. All in all, another wonderful day.

This is what our sunsets usually looked like--a fat yolk on the horizon, then gray.