Remembering spring (just a few weeks ago) in the Jardín Japonés, Buenos Aires. All these wishes placed end to end would make a poem long enough to fill a book.
What we did on our fall vacation:
Immersed ourselves in spring.
Each day balmier than the one before, with occasional chilly rain. Crescent moon from another point of view, an unfamiliar family of constellations in the night sky.
In Lelé de Troya’s green room (there are also red, yellow, and blue rooms), Malbec by candlelight, the Beatles, two couples celebrating 25th wedding anniversaries reminiscing about disco dancing in NYC, leisure suits, and long-ago first jobs. Finishing dessert at midnight while the rest of Buenos Aires just gets started.
Talking with many a taxi driver (Claudio, Lila, Juan, and a few more whose names I don’t recall) thanks to one of our foursome’s exuberant Spanish. (Buenas noches! Cómo estás? Yo hablo español pero no comprendo nada. Háblenos de Buenos Aires.) Our drivers are warm, friendly, opinionated, proud of their city but wanting things to be better, eager to speak with us. Trying to follow their rapid-fire Spanish, wishing we understood more.
Spanish haiku in the Japanese Gardens, a circle of Spanish-speaking Japanese women deep in conversation under a silk floss tree.
Reading in bed Pico Iyer’s Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World, disliking his essay on Argentina in which he contends people here strive for the wealth and sophistication of Europe, but are only pale imitations of it. True for some, perhaps, but I see down-to-earth, hard-working Argentinians and a genuine, vibrant culture that is what it is.
Watching amazing tango dancers, learning the tango was partly invented by Italians who emigrated to La Boca, a working class section of Buenos Aires. Never before realizing the inventiveness and variation possible within the structure of tango.
More reading in bed after a long day walking the city, Lawrence Thornton’s novel, Imagining Argentina. Letting myself imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to have one’s teen-age daughter stolen away to the pampas in the night, never to be seen again. Recalling the crosses and banners of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo we’d seen.
Iguazu evenings, drinking Caipirinhas in the secret garden of our bed and breakfast run by a photographer from Calcutta who has spent forty years in Argentina. John cares deeply about local flora and fauna and plans to offer walk-about tours to teach people about the region’s ecology. Meeting Natalie (British), Christina (from Mexico, now British) Helen and Andre (British and South African, respectively, now living in Austria). And some Argentinians from Buenos Aires who say the middle class here is disappearing. Does that sound familiar?
In Iguazu National Park, hundreds, thousands of butterflies: deep purple on brown, art deco, Italian modern. They hitch a ride on our hats, sleeves, shoulders. Clusters of mint green and yellow-winged moths delicate as parchment, scattering like confetti in the wind. Monkeys, coatis, lizards, turtles, toucans.
Ending our trip viewing some of the 300 waterfalls in Iguazu. People from all over the world come to this remote place where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. Standing before the immense, overwhelming Garganta del Diablo (the Devil’s Throat), welcoming the cool spray after our subtropical hike. Like Andre said one evening after he and Helen braved a boat that takes you as close as you can get to one of the biggest waterfalls, every particle of your body awakens.
You feel totally alive.
If you’ve been to Argentina or can suggest good books about this beautiful country, please tell us in the comments below.
Zen in Nature
I was interested to read “Finding Zen in a Patch of Nature” in the New York Times today. David Haskell’s new book, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature sounds wonderful. Plan to add it to my reading list.
Bookstores (of course) and tombs in Recoleta, Buenos Aires
We visited Recoleta, a well-to-do neighborhood in Buenos Aires, and browsed at Cúspide Libros, a popular chain in Argentina. Here we found a collection spanning many subjects – politics, history, travel, art, design, cooking, current fiction and nonfiction, the classics, and more.
Cúspide Libros is in an upscale shopping mall. In the U.S., you might not expect to find a bookstore with such a broad, deep selection of titles.
Our traveling companions, who live in New York City, commented that Buenos Aires seems especially devoted to bookstores and reading.
La Recoleta Cemetary is across the street, where many Argentinian notables have elaborate tombs. It’s a fascinating place, a dense grid of narrow walkways lined with mausoleums, some crumbling and in disrepair, others pristine. Despite the somewhat morbid undertones, it’s quiet and peaceful, a stunning outdoor art gallery.
El Ateneo in Buenos Aires
Monday was a holiday in Argentina, Dia del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural, and many businesses were closed. We’d come across town to visit El Ateneo Grand Splendid, one of the largest and most beautiful bookstores in the world, and we were relieved to find it was open.
This former theater in the Barrio Norte section of Buenos Aires featured some of the greatest tango artists and premiered the first sound films in Argentina.
There are Italian ceiling frescoes and original theater boxes where you can relax and browse through books.
We spent a couple of happy hours in the cafe located on the former stage.
First sentences, Junot Diaz
Selected first sentences, from short stories in This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz:
“I’m not a bad guy.”
“Nilda was my brother’s girlfriend. This is how all these stories begin.”
“You, Yunior, have a girlfriend named Alma, who has a long tender horse neck and a big Dominican ass that seems to exist in a fourth dimension beyond jeans.”
“Your girl catches you cheating. (Well, actually she’s your fiancee, but hey, in a bit it so won’t matter.”)
“Those last months.”
“Years later you would wonder if it hadn’t been for your brother would you have done it?”
As fate would have it, one day in April when I went to Joe Bean (whose website has great photos, including one by A. Hallinan) to meet my son and have a cup of incredible coffee, I was given a free book, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz in celebration of World Book Night.
I haven’t read this Pulitzer Prize winning book yet, so I thought I would now, right along with This Is How You Lose Her. Both books feature the narrator, Yunior, who, according to NPR reviewer Carmen Gimenez Smith, “might someday rank with Philip Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman or John Updike’s Harry Angstrom as an enduring American literary protagonist.”
While we’re getting to know this next great American literary protagonist, whose native land is the Dominican Republic, I’ll be posting from Argentina, where I’ll also be rereading Imagining Argentina, visiting a larger-than-life bookstore, and….well, we’ll see.
Quotes from This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz, Riverhead Books, New York, 2012.
Great books coming this fall
Been too long away from the blog. Visiting family, and it’s the busiest time of year at the library, where I’ve had the privilege of working with eleven first-year medical students. I’ll be their personal librarian for the next four years, a role we librarians are inventing and making our own as we go along.
When it comes to Books Can Save A Life, I often wonder who might stop by and whether I can make their visit personal and meaningful, especially considering most of my readers are anonymous.
One thing I know, I have to feel passionate or intensely curious about the books, writers, and topics I feature here.
You may be inspired to read some of the books or authors you find on Books Can Save A Life but, ultimately, I hope Books gives you a moment of pleasure, speaks to some aspect of your own life, stirs up memories of past good reads, or inspires you to try a new path in your personal reading.
After visiting my favorite book spots on the Internet, I was energized to find that this fall will bring a perfect storm of new fiction and nonfiction by some of our best writers. Everyone in the book world is excited about the upcoming publishing season.
Some of my favorite authors will publish new books, and others have been on my to-read list for a while. This fall and winter I want to feature some of them on Books Can Save A Life. Let’s immerse ourselves in the spirit and mood of our time. What are our obsessions, passions, predictions, hopes, fears, delusions and delights? How are we, personally, caught up in all of it?
Let’s find out.
Tops on my list are Barbara Kingsolver and Ian McEwan.
I loved Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Her new book, Flight Behavior, is right up my alley, with a larger-than-life plot about a farmer’s wife caught up in a biological disaster that draws worldwide attention and fuels the controversy over climate change.
I’ve read McEwan’s Saturday twice (someday I’ll tell you why that book is so special to me), and I’m looking forward to his Sweet Tooth. It’s about a Cold War spy who falls in love with the novelist she’s supposed to be manipulating. One reviewer calls it a complex “Russian doll of a novel” that’s really about readers, reading, how we respond to fiction, and what we want from it.
Mark Helprin will have a new book out, too, In Sunlight and In Shadow. Have any of you read Winter’s Tale? Among other things, it’s a love letter to New York City of the early 1900s (and of the future.) I read it when I was saying goodbye to New York and a particular time in my life. Helprin’s newest book takes place in post World War II New York and is, I think, a similarly fabulous and grand tale.
I’m curious about J.K. Rowling’s new novel, The Casual Vacancy, but I may wait for the reviews to make the commitment.
Some authors publishing this fall I’ll be meeting for the first time:
San Miguel, by T. C. Boyle (two families on an island off the coast of California)
Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon (two families in Oakland, California – doesn’t that sound just like Boyle’s book?)
This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz (all kinds of love)
Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story, by D. T. Max (a biography of David Foster Wallace)
But first, I promised you Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor in August. Better late than never, it’s a book I can’t pass up that will be front and center in my next post.
Also coming up: two book stories to share with you from a couple of my readers, and a trip to Buenos Aires in October, where I’ll be re-reading Imagining Argentina and writing about my adventures.
What are you reading? Are there any forthcoming books you plan to buy the minute they’re available?