Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Toni Morrison: Tar Baby. 1981

Tar Baby

People in town go inside because the sky weighs too much at noon. They wait for hot food with lots of pepper so the day will feel cooler by comparison. They drink sweet drinks and swallow bitter coffee to distract their insides from the heat and weight of the sky.

How very much like home. But this is not the heat of our Kuwait. It is “The End of the world” as Morrison calls it, Isle des Chevaliers, the setting for her third novel Tar Baby, where “clouds and fish were convinced that the world was over;” and where “champion daisy trees …, part of the rain forest already two thousand years old and scheduled for eternity, … ignored the men and continued to rock the diamondbacks that slept in their arms. It took the river to persuade them that indeed the world was altered. That never again would rain be equal, and by the time they realized it …, it was too late. The men had already folded the earth where there had been no fold and hollowed her where there had been no hollow.”
The setting in this amazing novel is more than just vivid. It speaks louder than the characters.

The clouds looked at each other, then broke apart in confusion. Fish heard their hooves as they raced off to carry the news of the scatterbrained river to the peaks of hills and the tops of the champion daisy trees. But it was too late. The men had gnawed through the daisy trees until, wild-eyed and yelling, they broke in two and hit the ground.

This discomformity in the setting is reflected in Morrison’s main characters. Here are some of them:
Jadine: lost her mother at an early age so was raised by her uncle Sidney and his wife Ondine who work for a wealthy white man, Valerian Street. Valerian provides for Jadine’s education and other expenses, so she lives a more privileged life than most black Southern girls.
Son: escapes from a ship where he is forced to work, and lands in Valerian’s house where Valerian attempts to ‘civilize’ him. He meets Jadine but their relationship does not succeed as Jadine realizes that they come from two opposite backgrounds and the savage in Son conflicts with the more polished Jadine.
Margaret Street: married 38 year old Valerian when she was 18. She used to abuse her son Michael. Ondine told on her when Michael was an adult, during a Christmas dinner party. Margaret blames Ondine for not stopping her then, claiming she was young and needed guidance.
Sidney and Ondine: raise Jadine like their own daughter but are disappointed when in the end she does not ‘pay them back,’ to which Ondine remarks “She’s not a savings account, … You don’t get interest back.” Ondine tells Jadine that “if she never learns how to be a daughter, she can’t never learn how to be a woman.” But Jadine insists that Ondine’s definition of womanhood is not the only one available.

This is Morrison at her richest in terms of the complexity of characters. It is also one of her richest novels in terms of presenting faulty character without allowing the reader to indulge in passing judgment, a strength in all Morrison's novels, but one that is more evident here.

Read Tar Baby. It is worth your time. It is also worth the possible headache you might get in trying to put the events together.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Alice Walker's "The Flowers"

It seemed to Myop as she skipped lightly from hen house to pigpen to smokehouse that the days had never been as beautiful as these. The air held a keenness that made her nose twitch. The harvesting of the corn and cotton, peanuts and squash, made each day a golden surprise that caused excited little tremors to run up her jaws.
Myop carried a short, knobby stick. She struck out at random at chickens she liked, and worked out the beat of a song on the fence around the pigpen. She felt light and good in the warm sun. She was ten, and nothing existed for her but her song, the stick clutched in her dark brown hand, and the tat-de-ta-ta-ta of accompaniment,
Turning her back on the rusty boards of her family's sharecropper cabin, Myop walked along the fence till it ran into the stream made by the spring. Around the spring, where the family got drinking water, silver ferns and wildflowers grew. Along the shallow banks pigs rooted. Myop watched the tiny white bubbles disrupt the thin black scale of soil and the water that silently rose and slid away down the stream.
She had explored the woods behind the house many times. Often, in late autumn, her mother took her to gather nuts among the fallen leaves. Today she made her own path, bouncing this way and that way, vaguely keeping an eye out for snakes. She found, in addition to various common but pretty ferns and leaves, an armful of strange blue flowers with velvety ridges and a sweet suds bush full of the brown, fragrant buds.
By twelve o'clock, her arms laden with sprigs of her findings, she was a mile or more from home. She had often been as far before, but the strangeness of the land made it not as pleasant as her usual haunts. It seemed gloomy in the little cove in which she found herself. The air was damp, the silence close and deep.
Myop began to circle back to the house, back to the peacefulness of the morning. It was then she stepped smack into his eyes. Her heel became lodged in the broken ridge between brow and nose, and she reached down quickly, unafraid, to free herself. It was only when she saw his naked grin that she gave a little yelp of surprise.
He had been a tall man. From feet to neck covered a long space. His head lay beside him. When she pushed back the leaves and layers of earth and debris Myop saw that he'd had large white teeth, all of them cracked or broken, long fingers, and very big bones. All his clothes had rotted away except some threads of blue denim from his overalls. The buckles of the overall had turned green.
Myop gazed around the spot with interest. Very near where she'd stepped into the head was a wild pink rose. As she picked it to add to her bundle she noticed a raised mound, a ring, around the rose's root. It was the rotted remains of a noose, a bit of shredding plowline, now blending benignly into the soil. Around an overhanging limb of a great spreading oak clung another piece. Frayed, rotted, bleached, and frazzled--barely there--but spinning restlessly in the breeze. Myop laid down her flowers.
And the summer was over.

Poor Myop grew up a little too soon :)

Short stories can be so packed. Can you see the little red riding hood in Myop? Can you see the big bad wolf's teeth in the skeleton's teeth? I wonder if my Intro to Lit class can see all this.

Oh and that was my too-lazy-to-blog-but-wanna-blog post. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My Shop around the Corner

When I was studying for my Masters in Pennsylvania, there was a cozy little bookstore near campus where I found pleasure browsing through its row upon row of books scattered in a seemingly random fashion. The intimacy of this small, non-chain-style bookshop made it a frequent hub for a few students, like myself, who, though awed by places like Barnes and Noble and Walden books, nevertheless found this friendly place more appealing to the mind/eye.

A few years later Meg Ryan reminded me of that place in her own Shop around the Corner. I was again lured by the idea of a small, snug, selective bookshop that serves its customers both books and expertise on these books. A cup of tea of coffee accompanying that expertise would make it more inviting for customers too, allowing them to ‘hang out’ while looking for books.

And then Shurouq introduced me to Qurtas. Being mainly a reader of English literature, I was not previously familiar with the place. And though I went there only once or twice, I find that this store does seem to offer a more or less similar version (if in Arabic) of what I want in a bookshop as it provides a few seating arrangements for its customers. The difference is in the atmosphere that Arabic books provide, different from that of English prints.

I want my own little shop around the corner, more intimate than Virgin and Jareer, more international than Qurtas, and feeding both brains and taste buds.

This post is dedicated to Shopa who reminded me that it's time for a new post. And what better than a post about a shop for our very own Shopaholic?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Jetlagged much indeed.

Following Jacquie's extra long travel journal, here's mine:

I leave the hotel at 6:20pm, arrive at JFK 7 as per the airline's instructions to be at the airport 3 hours prior to departure. Well, guess what? Our check-in line was not in the least bit crowded and we checked in in 30 minutes. Entry through the gates was also swift (another 30 minutes tops). So by 8 we're ready to board, but plane leaves at 10. We shop, eat, drink, shop some more.

7 hours to Amsterdam. I have my sleep aids and an intention to sleep the 7 hours. Next to me sits a lady heading to Cyprus. She is a talker, a snorer, a chewer, a breather, a mover ... and she does all those things continuously and loudly. Needless to say, I barely slept for 3 hours.

3 hour wait in Amsterdam. Sleepy but hungry. So we eat. Always a good way to kill time at airports. Amsterdam has a comfortable airport. I manage a 30 minute nap on the chair.

5 hours to Kuwait. Couldn't sleep at all. Those stupid personal TVs can be harmful at times. I am one who loses sleep when watching TV. I flipped chanels, watched TV, music, played, disregarding my bloodshot red eyes.

10 pm, I'm home. 12 I'm in bed. 1 I'm up again. Stay up till 5:30. Sleep till 1 (causing mommy and daddy dearest to worry when I didn't answer the phone after promising them to have breakfast with them)

Second night. I hit the sack at 11. Wake up at 3:30. Decide to watch 24 (episode 1 of season 4) to put me to sleep (knowing fully well that TV keeps me up rather than lulls me to sleep). I stay up till 6:30 when the alams goes off waking up an already wide awake me. I see the kids off to school and by 7:30 I manage to sleep hoping for a phone call from mom to wake me up around 9 (our usual breakfast time). Well, mommy dearest decides to let me sleep in today and I wake up at 10:30 on a call from NBK.

Tonight's plan. Take the damned sleeping aids again hoping they won't cause me to dream about noisy lady from Cyprus.

Long post. Don't blame me. It's my inspiration's fault.
Will you forgive me if I leave you with the soothing sound of the fountain trickling by the Lake at Central Park?

Lake at Central Park

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Meryl Streep in Central Park

Mother Courage

Meryl Streep & Kevin Kline in Mother Courage, part of the Shakespeare in the Park productions.

Mother Courage (stage)

Regardless of the weather turning cold and the rain getting heavier, the audience continued to pour in.

raining on Mother Courage

Then it started raining heavy, we took out our umbrellas, they had to stop. Streep wasn't too happy about that and raised her fist up towards the rain, cursing it?

I have to give these actors credit. They continued acting in spite of the rain. It is us, mortal subjects, who were bothered by it. Meryl Streep, needless to say, was amazingly energetic, rolling around in the mud, jumping and singing on stage. I fell in love with her all over again.
Tomorrow night, I say goodbye to New York City. Though it's been treating me good (these past 12 days), I miss home. I miss my boys and my bed and my shower.
Most of all I miss my blogger friends (not really most of all but since you'd be reading this I thought I'd play to your ego)