Short Story: Of Instability and Growing Roots

Of Instability and Growing Roots


She walked out of the airport into the humid air, so humid that each breathe was a mix of droplets and warmth. She didn’t turn around to look behind her; she just walked straight over to the men with their cars, to what appeared to be a taxi rank, disorderly, loud but with the main direction of taking people where they needed to go. This was the start of all new, a place where she could soothe the aches and pains of a life that had failed her and find that core that had gone missing months before.
Another country, new people, a new adventure. Gone were the days of sitting at the bar and drinking the night away. Gone were the days of lying in bed under the covers, wishing for the time to stop so that she wouldn’t have to face anything outside of the house. Gone were the days of pretending to smile and laugh at everything and everyone, waiting for that one moment when she could start drinking and drown herself in oblivion. This wasn’t even a new start, just an awakening of sorts, a change and a time to reflect on the years lost and found.

“The beach please. Just the beach.”

Emily was your quintessential wild child. Rebellious and quiet as a teen, adventurous in her twenties and free-falling in her thirties. Strong-willed and strong-hearted, but lost in the world that surrounded her. She spent so much time looking for something that had departed so many years before; that she often forgot what it was like to actually enjoy her life in the way that it should have been lived.
There were the days in the squats, cooking vegetarian food over a gas stove, foraging the market for the cheapest foods and inventing meals that were filling and savoury on a tight budget. While Emily would go to school and dissect poetry and fiction, her boyfriend Neil would sell weed and coke in order to provide himself with the odd heroin fix. Nights were spent talking about the world and listening to old records saved or stolen, scratched and warped. It was hard to afford food, but the alcohol was always present, as was the white powder that would make its way into everybody’s noses at some point or another. Electricity was not always an option, and in the days of darkness the instruments would appear, or they would all pile into a van and drive around, looking for a warehouse party or an outside rave. Sell drugs, consume drugs and dance until the sun went down again, sometimes multiple times. The only milestone was the degree that Emily wanted to obtain, not for any real purpose except for an accomplishment. The first person with a degree in the family that she had lost sight of.

Emily tired of the squat and of Neil once his dabbling in heroin became a daily need, and branched out on her own, traveling to places that her eyes had never seen before. There were the days with a small backpack and random friends picked up along the way. Ashrams in India, third class train rides in Egypt, kibbutzim in Israel, barefoot walks on the beaches in Morocco. Postcards home with the words “I am safe, I love you”. Men who fell in love with her, and men who she fell in love with along the way, sad goodbyes and lies about being together again someday, somewhere else on the planet. Friendships forged over campfires and during bumpy bus rides. Cheap cigarettes and vodka, beach parties and long discussions involving copious amounts of weed and tobacco. Emily lost herself in the different worlds she ventured to, and came out of them with a new sense of self, with a confidence she had been lacking in her younger years and with a new sense of fulfillment and goals for the future. It was time to settle for a while.

“Left and then a right here. Go straight down the road until you get to the little shop on the corner, and then make another right.”

Emily contemplated the world outside the open car window, breathing in the smells of ash and incense, food and rubbish. People clad in garments of all colours and shapes, voices talking in different languages and cars honking at every intersection, trying to make their way through the traffic of people and cars and bikes. The only thing that mattered at this point was the beach and the peace it would always bring.

There were the days in the city, working in the office, scraping by to pay rent on a tiny studio that she only ever used to sleep in. Nights in dive bars and days picking up the brain cells lost in those bars, only to lose them again in another location the following night. Emily despised her job and the stress that she let overwhelm her on a daily basis, but persevered under the notion that this is what she should be doing with her life, conforming in her own way, tattooed sleeves under business shirts and barefoot wandering in airports during business trips. It couldn’t last, it just wasn’t for her. The partying took its toll and pneumonia and depression crept in, taking over the smiles and laughter that used to fill her days and nights. A sure sign of needed change, time to move on and find that natural light and happiness again.

Emily left those days one rainy, blustery day and found what she had been looking for for years, a life that she had always wanted. Jobs that she enjoyed and friends that had the same outlook as her. People who did not want to conform but who just wanted to be who they were, despite the fact that they may not always be accepted by others. She realised that there was no calling in life, but ideas and needs and destinations and sights. Places to go and people to see and experiences to feel. Freedom was always available; you just needed to take advantage of it. Some may call it another form of running away, but for Emily it was just another adventure, another place and another time where her insomnia died and her laughter came back. The simple parts of life that were so fulfilling reappeared and she woke up most days with a smile and an interesting thought. There were some days and weeks of grey areas, times when the tears would fall freely for a while, before drying up and leaving her be again. Emails came and went, with the words “How are you? Should I be worried” and the usual response of “I’m fine, doing great!”

Then came the days that the grey turned to black, and the light disappeared once again. Back to the bars and the oblivion that she had been fleeing for so long. Sadness prevailed happiness and the tears would never dry up, even when the sun was shining and the sky was pure blue. Christmas lights and songs of freedom did not help, all cares were gone and hugs could not fight the growing sense of impending doom on the horizon. Night turned to day and day to night and the most important thought was that of escape, once again. Ties bound her down, and the scissors to cut them were always just a few centimeters out of reach.

It was time. Time to leave and time to return. A small bag of belongings and a ticket to fly away, no looking back, no looking forward.

“You can leave me here. This is perfect.”

There she was, right there, on the beach, in the same spot as she had always been. In front of the hut, looking exactly like she always had. A few more wrinkles, lighter hair and the same ocean-blue eyes. Some things never really changed, even after months and years of outside changes.

“Hi Mum.”
“Emily… You came home at last! It’s time to let the healing begin and to rest within the confines of this paradise we have always called home. I love you child, I knew that you would make it back when the time was right for you. I never doubted your strong spirit would guide you back to me.”

Time may not heal all wounds, but love and peace may just do the trick. Home is where your heart never leaves.



Short Story: Wine Days (aka La vie en rosé)

Wine Days (aka La vie en rosé)


Tout seul dans mon placard
Les yeux cernés de noir
A l'abri des regards
Je défie le hasard
Dans ce monde qui n'a ni queue ni tête
Je n'en fais qu'à ma tête
Un mouchoir au creux du pantalon
Je suis chevalier D'Eon – Mylène Farmer, Sans Contrefaçon


“First stop at Hannibal-qui-n’est-pas-Hannibal for the wine, then Place Victor Hugo for Berlioz!”

“It’s been too long; we have so much to tell Berlioz, so much!”

Red wine for the winter days: dark and warm, stains your lips red and leads to a darker and thicker drunken state. Red wine to warm the soul while running around the streets of the town in the cold days, sometimes Port on a rich day, but mostly red wine of low quality, no more than 15 francs a bottle from the usual épicérie on the corner of Les Halles. White wine for the spring and the summer, fresh from the fridge if possible, but it’s not too much of an issue if it’s warm as it’s all going to be gone pretty fast. One bottle for now and another for the bag, as you never know how long of a night it is going to be.

It’s always important to eat before drinking, because you don’t want to get sick, especially if you don’t have much money and are leaning towards the cheaper bottles, or even the plastic bottles of near-vinegar if the finances are severely dire. Bottle opened in hand? Ready to go!

Place Victor Hugo, where our old friend Hector Berlioz resides in the form of an imposing statue, looking over the fountain and the people who walk through on their way elsewhere. This is where the Christmas market is held in the winter and where children jump through the fountain in the summer (as well as the occasion child-adults such as me). Who hasn’t jumped into a fountain and walked home soaking wet but laughing gleefully? Or maybe that is just me…

Mélusine and Marie-Antoinette, off with her head, skipping hand in hand down the old streets of the city, a bottle of wine in each hand and hundreds of ideas and thoughts racing through our mind. Berlioz is the beginning and the end; he listens without judging, never moves and never leaves us. The first bottles are opened at his feet and the race towards l’ivresse commences.

Sometimes in life we are lucky enough to find that perfect friendship that makes you feel free. When I met Mélusine she was shy and hid behind her hair in the corner of the bar. My friends would try to get her to join us, because she was beautiful and sweet, but she would not say more than one or two words at a time, until I gathered her up and took her with me along my own journey on a path I didn’t know existed. We discovered a mutual love for female-fronted punk and grunge bands, strong coffee, wine, 19th century literature and decadence, as well as playing hilarious pranks on men and women who we found annoying, insensitive and stupid. There were many of them around at the time, and they tended to congregate around us and our little group of misfits.

I had grown up with my group of friends, mainly men with a few girls who came and went as time went by. Mélusine appeared out of nowhere and stuck with us, becoming my best friend and favourite companion, someone who I could talk to about things that I couldn’t talk about with the guys. Crushes, love, sadness, fear and loneliness: the topics of misplaced childhood and youth. We were both shy and suffered from low self-esteem alone, but together we thought we could conquer the world, reaching the lowest pits of despair and the highest peaks of happiness together. Mélusine listened to me cry as I comforted her through her darkest days. I listened to her laugh as she held my hand when we skipped through the sunshine, picking daffodils along the way. Did you know that there is a fine for each public city flower picked? We are lucky that we were never caught because we would walk around with bunches and bunches of daffodils in the spring, leaving a trail behind us.

We were like polar opposites physically. Mélusine with her long, blonde hair and green eyes, me with my long, brown hair and dark brown eyes, but we were of the same height and similar skinny builds. We both dressed alike, although Mélusine was more understated than me and liked to hide underneath large layers. Ribbons in our hair and long red nails on fingers covered in fountain pen ink from all the writing we would do. Letters to others, letters to each other, university papers and diary entries were all written by hand in ink. Babes in Toyland in our ears and Fluffy lyrics flying from our mouths when we were angry drunk, Mylène Farmer when we were happy drunk. We liked to sing to Berlioz when we started to feel warm and fuzzy inside, before going on our way towards the adventures of the night.

Si je dois tomber de haut
Que ma chute soit lente
Je n´ai trouvé de repos
Que dans l´indifférence
Pourtant, je voudrais retrouver l´innocence - Mylène Farmer- Désenchantée


Café St Germain and then wine by Berlioz. One bottle finished, the next one opened and then en route pour l’aventure! Every night was different, we never knew where or what the stars would lead us to. Some nights we would roam the streets of the town, looking for parties to crash, other nights we would meet our friends at one of the local hang-outs, some nights we would go to the coureur de jupons apartment and invite everyone we knew to join us and other nights we would sit by the river talking about how much we despised everyone and everything and how life would have been so much better if we had been born in a different century.

“I want to kick that door down and tell them to stop hanging around those awful people. I want to punch that girl in the face and tell her to stop trying to be my friend because I despise everything that she stands for, stupid fucking hippie!!”

“Why do they all hate us so much? What the fuck is wrong with us?? I wish I had enough strength to tell people how I felt. I mean, I wish I could tell HIM how much I love him. All I can do is watch him out of the corner of my eye and listen to you and him talking about natural things and I don’t even dare open my mouth.  I hate myself!”

“Oh darling, stop beating yourself up about this, you know what he is like. He only goes out with girls who he can manipulate into doing what he wants. Those girls are like Rapunzel in their towers, waiting for him to come home after he has been out all night drinking with us. Do you want to be that girl? At least we are free to do whatever we want and say whatever we want… N’est-ce pas?”

No one had cell phones at the time, and we all used to find each other at some point during the night. There were a few spots where we would always end up, usually besides one of the many fountains or statues in the city; or at the barDock for an electro-goth night or at the venue if there was a concert on, smuggling our wine into the venue and drinking it in the toilets. If we found a house or apartment party going on somewhere we would wrangle our way in, pretending we knew one of the people there, make a beeline to the fridge and walk out with any alcohol we could find. The town wasn’t that big, and the center, although full of winding streets, was small enough to find whoever you needed to find, and big enough to hide from those you didn’t want to see. Mélusine and I tended to read each others’ minds, and our first concern was always the welfare of the other. Our friendship was one of such closeness that we could always feel when the other was in difficulty or danger. We loved the same men but never fought over them; we hated the same people and pushed each other to find the biggest and best pranks we could play on people.

I was a wild shy child, alcohol helped me lose the cloak I shrouded myself with and gave me the power to be myself in front of everyone. Alcohol gave Mélusine the force to lose her inability to speak in public and brought out her real personality that you would only see when she was completely comfortable in a group of people. It took her a while but she ended up feeling comfortable with all of us, throwing witty and funny comments out here and there, and surprising the people who had already put her in the “blonde-who-doesn’t-talk” box. I was just completely erratic, sometimes nice and friendly and sweet, other times sad and depressed, other times angry and sarcastic and rebellious. People tried to analyse us, judge us, become friends with us, tag along with us because they were feeling adventurous or talk shit about us because they didn’t dare be us. Most of the time it was Mélusine and me against the world, often with our male counterparts, poets, rebels, musicians, full of ideas and despair, discontented and angsty, wondering when the world would change for us.

Slutkiss girls
Won't you promise her smack?
Is she pretty on the inside?
Is she pretty from the back? – Hole, Pretty On The Inside


Mélusine came from a strict family and would constantly lie to her parents about her whereabouts and her friends. She stayed at my house whenever we went out, as I benefitted from a very free-spirited mother who trusted me to be safe and not to end up in a ditch somewhere, and, however much I drank or however much I smoked, I always ended up home, safe in my bed. We avoided drunken one night stands and we avoided dangerous situations, preferring the company of each other, our bottles of wine, our friends and our songs. There is really nothing to match that slow but steady warm and tingly feeling that starts in your stomach and rises towards your head once you start drinking, and once you start there is no going back… One, two or three bottles and the party is on.

My lie is true, My lie is true
It is I swear to you
My lie is true, My lie is true
It is I swear to you
You don't want to
You don't want to see me crawl
Do you know how hard I try
To never let you see me cry
I seem to have too much control
and now I feel cold – Fluffy, Crawl


“I want to leave this godforsaken city and move to Paris. There is nothing for us here except the deep, dirty waters of the Isere and the unrequited love of the boys who consider us to be just that: female versions of them. At least in Paris we can fade away into the crowd and not have to put up with all of this crap every day.”

“Let’s plan on moving there once we have finished university. We won’t tell anyone, we will just go and find new lives there. A little apartment in Montmartre, jobs in the bars around there, maybe we could sell books by the Seine and meet the loves of our lives there? I’m so bored of this town, nothing ever happens here, no one ever changes and no one ever falls in love with me. Or if they do I don’t know about it, because I’m obviously still single.”

“Dreaming… Dreaming… Dreaming of something else. But is there anything else?”

Every day was filled with written words, every night filled with singing and shouting, laughter and tears. Freedom was easy, but we still felt trapped in the town we had grown up in. Brothers and sisters in happiness and despair, so far but so near. Wine days make everything so much better, and wine nights are full of surprises. La Décadence.

 « Le vin, la moyenne de facilite de partir, partir loin d’aujourd’hui. Tout le monde il est beau, tout le monde il est beau… Le lendemain est moins euphorique, mais il reste toujours le lendemain soir et le soir après etc, etc, etc. Devenir fou ? Nous le sommes déjà… L’alcool aide à libérer nos grains de folie, de les faire voler, voler au-dessus de tout, dans le ciel noir et nuageux. Tout est mieux que la lucidité affreuse. » M.V.

Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


I love that moment when you read the first sentence of a book and you know that you are immediately hooked. Your eyes widen, your hands clench the book a little tighter and you feel yourself sinking into the words... That's exactly the way I felt when I opened Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I love historical fiction and I am particularly interested in recent African history at the moment, so the fact that this book caught my eye is a no-brainer, but there is SO much more to it than that (more about that a bit further down).

Half of a Yellow Sun is set in Nigeria in the early and late 60's, before, during and a little after the civil war that ensued after Biafra attempts to secede from the rest of the state of Nigeria. Adichie takes us from the independence from Great Britain in 1960, through the military coups that follow, the rising ethnic clashes and violence (specifically against the Igbo) and resulting secession and declaration of independence of Biafra and it's struggle to survive amidst a civil war that breaks out. We follow the story through the eyes and words of five very strong characters: Ugwu, a houseboy who comes to work for the revolutionary university professor Odenigbo; Odenigbo's lover, the beautiful and well-educated Olanna; Olanna's twin sister Kainene; and Kainene's lover Richard, the Englishman who makes his way to Nigeria to write about Igbo art, and falls in love with both the country and Kainene.The story weaves through these characters lives and portrays an image of life in Nigeria before the war: the passion of the Igbo and the creation of their own state, the interactions with life in the villages, life within the urban middle-class and the remaining British ex-pats who keep themselves away from the Nigerian population, hanging on to what is left of the colony days. Adichie provides us with a beautiful story of love, hatred, war, death and humanity (as well as inhumanity).

There is no need to be interested in African history to enjoy this novel, although if you are it is definitely a must-read. Adichie's prose is pretty much sublime in my opinion - she builds such a passionate story line, and develops her characters so intensely well that you are standing there with them all the way, hurting when they hurt, laughing when they laugh, falling in love when they fall in love. My favourite character (after much deliberation) is Ugwu, the young boy who becomes an indispensable part of the family that hires him. I also love Olanna's fierce independence that is coupled with her fear of losing everything she loves... Each character is completely human, imperfect and real, I feel like there is a part of everyone in all of them. There are many difficult parts, specifically the descriptions of massacres, rape, death and starvation, but all are important in understanding the complexity of the situation and the passion of the people to be free of outside, controlling power.

I cried a lot reading this book, and it probably wasn't a good idea to finish it on my subway ride back home last night, with tears running down my face; and many a time I felt like I was being punched in the stomach, but all the same, I couldn't stop reading. I could literally see and smell the country through the words, and this is something that I admire so much in a writer - the ability to really create a world that I have never seen before right before my eyes. Adichie is only a year older than me, and I feel like she has created a beauty of a novel, set in very disturbing times. I can't wait to read her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, and her collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck. So very inspiring.

More information:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's website

Short Story: Paris and the Garden Gnomes

A story I wrote based on a trip to Paris back in the 90's...



"En attendant mieux vaut se consacrer aux autres qu'à un nain de jardin" – Amélie Poulain

Neuilly, sometime in the late 90’s. 

Neuilly is in a posh part of Paris. I don’t think we can really call it a suburb, more like a posh area, stuck on to the rest of Paris. You take the ligne jaune, 1, Métro towards La Défense, and get out in a place that is obviously still a city but that also feels quiet and rich and old moneyish. Not the type of area that I was brought up in or lived, or even a place I really feel comfortable in. But it’s pretty, and M. had friends who lived there, and they let us stay during our first trip to Paris together. It’s not like we could ever have afforded to actually stay in a hotel or a hostel – the TGV ticket and some spending money were about all we could muster together. But it was worth it. Five days in the most beautiful, magical city in the world, roaming the streets of Paris, sitting by the Seine and contemplating life, drinking wine on the quai, watching all of the people walk by,  busy with their lives, while we had the time to sit and watch and wonder.
We learnt little tricks to save money: grab your coffee “au comptoir” to pay a “regular” price; get cappuccinos at McDo so you could take one along with you on your way. Eat a brie sandwich from the boulangerie and then go to Le Chat Noir in Pigalle to share a dessert and drink more coffee at a table. Cheap wine is easy to come by; we were never looking to savour it, just to get drunk and happy. That floating feeling of peace is something that only wine and youth can bring, sometimes I try to find it again and nearly always miss it in my rush to get there. Sipping wine straight from the bottle, waiting for that slow but steady rise of ivresse that starts in your stomach and ends in your head: warmth, serenity and bubbles of happiness and laughter. Red, white or rose, it really depended on my mood. Red was for those winter days, when I needed something warmer and stronger, white for the spring and summer, lighter and easier to drink, and rose for those days when I couldn’t stomach red or white. Probably after long week of drinking really cheap wine (as opposed to just cheap wine). The quality of cheap wine in France is what you would probably see as medium quality anywhere else… Very cheap wine is what you could equal to vinegar anywhere. Assume about 10 to 15 francs would get you a bottle of drinkable wine from an epicerie arabe. Wine and Gauloises Blondes (no way I could afford my favourites, Marlboro Lights, in my years of being a poor student), and the evening was all set to be a success.
On our last evening in Paris we decided not to sleep. We had to catch an early morning train and why would we waste our last hours in Paris sleeping when we could enjoy the magical air for a few more hours? We had dinner in a brasserie, drank some wine and walked around the Seine for a few hours before the last métro back to Neuilly. We had already planned our evening in advance and had bought some bottles of wine to drink through-out the night, with the plan of falling asleep on the TGV on the way home to ease the sadness of leaving Paris behind, for boring old Grenoble (Grenorrible). I find it difficult to drink in a contained space. I need to run, to sing, to jump, to create silly plans of action and play pranks on people. I need to jump in streams, pick city flowers and hug statues of great musicians of times gone by. I find it difficult to sit in one bar all night without running around in the streets, moving to other places and seeing different people. I like to feel free.
Neuilly was so quiet after midnight. As the lights went out one by one in the different apartments and houses around us, calm seemed to descend on the neighbourhood. Too calm. Meaning that the neighbourhood was in dire need of some decadence as Melusine and I would affectionately call our nights out. Decadence was whatever the night would bring, no one could determine it, but it would usually mean some kind of act that would make us laugh for days and days. Neuilly was too quiet for us, so all that could mean was that we were going to leave Paris with a bang.
Walking through the empty streets, singing Mylène Farmer songs, talking about boys and men and Romantic poets dead and gone from this earth (but not from our hearts), about how we want to move to Paris and live there, amongst the old buildings and the anonymity. One day, maybe one day. The grass may not be greener in Paris, but it sure is more appetizing…
“I can’t believe we didn’t find the exact place were Nerval killed himself. We had the map and the exact location!”. M. was peeved about this, as we wanted to see the area.
“I think we got it right”, I said, knowing that we had found the right alley, just that it had been closed off and added to a building over the course of the years. “In any case, we were right there, right where he took his life, right there were he gasped his final breath.”
M. contemplated this and nodded in agreement. We walked along, in silence, for a few minutes.
“J… Look at that garden!!”
“It’s full of garden gnomes! They are all looking at us! I think they need to go on a trip. Are you thinking what I am thinking?!”
“I think they need to go on a trip to see the Coureurs de Jupons in Grenorrible!”.
That was it; the idea had formed simultaneously in our minds, now it was just time for us to hatch out a plan. Three nains de jardin to be removed from a garden in peaceful Neuilly. Easy work, as long as we were discreet and quiet. M. tried the gate first but it was too noisy so she hopped over the fence and helped me over. Once in the garden we tiptoed over to the gnomes, picked one each, and a third one for good measure, tiptoed back to the fence, climbed back over, looked at each other and legged it down the street to the nearest corner, M. with a gnome under each arm, me holding it close to my chest while I ran. Breathless but hysterically laughing at this point we couldn’t believe that we had pulled it off. The ultimate prank, better than letters of disgust written on toilet paper and stuck to their front door. Better than locking ourselves in their bathroom during parties and taking baths for hours on end when people were waiting to pee. Better than switching their doormats with everyone else’s in the building. Better than playing knock a door run every night of the week. Even better than finding a shopping trolley in the street and carrying it up three flights of stairs and leaving it in front of their door. This was going to be the epic prank. A stunt no one else would have thought to play, except for two slightly crazy girls from Grenorrible.
The gnomes were wrapped in sweaters and placed on the overhead luggage racks in the TGV. Not even 7 o’clock in the morning, and it was time for us to say our last goodbye to Paris, coffee and croissants in our hands. It was impossible to cover the gnomes completely (they weren’t the smallest you could find; we are talking nice big smiling garden gnomes. The ones that stand out in your garden amidst the flowers and trees). Even wrapped up in sweaters their bright red hats were poking out of the top, and every time either of us looked up at the luggage racks we burst into laughter. Nothing remotely abnormal about two girls jumping on a train on a Monday morning amongst all of the business travelers in their suits, plonking three barely concealed garden gnomes above their heads and proceeding to sleep through the three hour journey back home.
Once at Gare Europole we walked to Boulevard Gambetta to make the first stop before going home, the final part of the prank. The building door was open as usual (although we would have had no qualms about ringing on all of the buzzers until someone opened it, our usual technique).
“Shhh! We need to be really quiet. They can’t catch us, because if they do it will all be ruined!” I was beginning to be a little paranoid and was worried the whole trick would be discovered before we could finish it.
“Ne t’inquiètes pas! It’s too early for any of them to be up, and if they are they are already in class. Let’s just try not to laugh while we get this done!”
For once M. seemed less worried than me, an unusual occurrence seeing as I was normally the more reckless of the two of us. Or maybe the one with the more reckless ideas, but more responsible in the way that I always knew exactly what I was doing and why. M. would follow along, sometimes with even more grandiose and evil ideas, but mainly not as aware of the consequences if we were caught. Of course I don’t mean real crime, but we were always up to no good, running around the streets drinking wine from the bottle, singing at the tops of our voices, crashing random parties we would find along the way, taking any alcohol we could find and running away. Sitting on statues and talking crap to random passers-by. Once we even made some poor guy kneel in front of the Berlioz statue and recite the Lord’s Prayer from beginning to end. Memories…
Once we got to the third floor we arranged the gnomes in a semi-circle in front of the door, so that they all looked towards the door. We didn’t even bother to leave a note, because who else would have thought of doing this? We then rang the bell and pounded on the door a few times and ran as fast as we could down the steps, racing out of the front door, grabbing our own luggage along the way, hoping that we would make it out of the building before anyone saw us. I think we did. Ultimate prank pulled off to perfection.
I only wish that I had been a little fly on the wall when one of the guys opened the door. Happy Monday from three Parisian garden gnomes! 

Slut angel selling acid punch
Dominatrix with a submissive glance
Botticelli with a tattooed bust – Fluffy, Crossdresser

Book Review: Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann


Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann

I just finished this one on the subway home from work, after starting it yesterday. I have to write about it now, even though I have a million things to do to prepare for my trip to England on Tuesday morning (working 8 days in a row and then picking up an extra shift tomorrow night isn't giving me much time to do laundry, pack, clean the apartment, go to the bank, print the eulogy and my tickets etc etc). I just have to write about this one now because I want to do it while it is still fresh in my mind.

No wonder this novel won the National Book Award. It's AMAZING. The story is about several lives that are intertwined in NYC in the 70's: Corrigan and his brother Ciaran, Irish immigrants living in the Bronx, Tillie and her daughter Jazzlyn, two prostitutes in the Bronx that Corrigan looks after, Clare and her husband Solomon, parents who are mourning the untimely death of their son in Vietnam, Lara and her husband, artists who are still looking for themselves through art and drugs, as well as quite a few others, lesser characters, but just as important and interesting.

Colum McCann starts the story with Philippe Petit's incredible feat of walking between the Twin Towers on a cable, and proceeds to use this as a back story for all the entire book. On the day that Petit walks across the wire different events happen that will change the lives of all characters for the rest of their lives. Although the narrative goes back in time and into the future to give background on some of the characters and events, the main storyline is based in this week in August 1974.

Rich, full of emotion and feelings that everyone can empathise with, this book is literally magical. Not only that, it creates a real vision of NYC, one that really exists, a city of everything, paradoxical and alive, one that anyone who has lived in NYC will immediately recognise. It's going to take me a while to get this book out of my mind, I think I am still a little overwhelmed.

At the end of the edition I read there is an interview with McCann by Nathan Englander. One of the questions was "Let The Great World Spin paints a broad picture of New York. Do you want to talk about the various worlds you walk us through?". McCann's answer really does explain it all, and I have to say that he succeeded in what he set out to do: "I wanted it to be a Whitmanesque song of the city, with everything in there - high and low, rich and poor, black, white, and Hispanic. Hungry, exhausted, filthy, vivacious, everything this lovely city is. I wanted to catch some of that music and slap it down on the page so that even those who have never been to New York can be temporarily transported there."

Read it - you won't be sorry.

Colum McCann
Man On Wire - Philippe Petit documentary

Book Review: Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz


I'm still obsessed with historical fiction, and will always make a beeline to any fictional writing based in the 1930's and 40's. World War Two still holds a fascination for me that I can't explain. I go for non-fiction too, but fiction will always be my main love. There is something about the fact that it COULD be real, because the written story will be based on events that actually happened at some point in time. It helps me imagine myself in the feet of the characters, living the lives that they did, thinking that maybe they did really exist, or someone like them was alive at the same time in the same area. All that to explain that my purchase of Ghita Schwarz' Displaced Persons was yet another random buy that I happened to come across when browsing the through the new book selection at St Mark's Bookstore. WW2 + Europe + survivors? It was a no-brainer, I grabbed it and immediately started reading it.

The story starts in 1945, just after the war and follows a small group of "displaced persons", the name given to concentration camp survivors and general survivors of the Nazi murdering machine, as they randomly find each other and fight to rebuild their lives as best as they can. The main character through the book is Pavel Mandl, and the narration follows him through his life, directly post-war around the Belsen camp and then post-immigration to the US with his new family and friends. The story sometimes skips to other characters, for example Fela, Pavel's wife; Chaim, the young boy who had survived the Holocaust by pure wit and intelligence and attached himself to Fela and Pavel, and Sima, Chaim's wife. You can find a full synopsis of the novel HERE.

I like that this book was written about survivors picking up the pieces and creating new lives for themselves, after losing everything, instead of being about the actual survival during the war. The narrative is written in such a way that you can hear the Yiddish, Polish and Russian inflections in the characters' voices, but it's so well done, that you don't even notice it outright, it just seems natural. The other point that I really liked about this book is that Schwarz focuses on the characters as normal people who have gone through traumatic experiences and continue to be normal people looking to survive and move on with their lives. The fact that they are survivors does not make them into super humans, they are just normal human beings with flaws and hopes and dreams, trying to make the most of what they have, while still trying to come to terms with the tragedies they have experienced.

By the end of the novel you feel as if you have known the characters all of your life and you don't want to leave them. I applaud Schwarz for writing such an emotional and real novel. If I am not mistaken this is her fictional debut so I can't wait to see what she comes up with next! I also LOVE the fact that she added a couple of pages to the end of the novel with titles of books about the subject, as well as a small synopsis for each book. For someone like me who continues to look for WW2 fiction, this is the best thing that an author can do!

More information:
Gita Schwarz official website