Sunday, October 28, 2007

Another Book Meme!

Tagged by Lotus Life, who seems capable of magnificent motherhood, full-time work, study and blogging, while I struggle with work and blogging. I suck. But I forgive myself.

1.Hardcover or paperback, and why?

Paperback, all the way. Hardcovers are too heavy: you can't throw them into a bag to take with you, or slip them into a coat pocket, or justify lugging them up a mountain.

In my early university years, and when I was an Arts student, I used to wear a big beige coat that had two enormous pockets. In one pocket, a notebook, my house keys and wallet. In the other pocket, a beat-up paperback and a lollipop. I loved the freedom of those days, wandering the university campus at my leisure, unburdened by a bag and heavy books. I was into Beat literature at the time, so it felt very bohemian to be so unencumbered. The lollipop was to keep me going because I was too poor to buy food: the sugar sufficed until I got home.

I became known in my Classical Mythology class as "The Lollipop Girl". I did not know anyone in the class, so I used to sit alone, up front. The first few tutorial sessions that I went to did not suit me, so I changed. And the first time I introduced myself to my new tutorial class, one of the other classmates piped up with: Oh! You're Lollipop Girl. It's good to know your name at last.

2.If I were to own a book shop I would call it…

Ugh. I'm crap with titles / names. I would probably ask everyone I knew for suggestions, or some random conversation would titillate me and that would become the book shop name. And it would be rather convoluted, and probably not very catchy. Kinda like the title of this blog.

My bookshop would also be a tea room & cafe, pho kitchen, laundrette and cinema. Everyone who wanted to could hang out there for as long as they liked, with nary a purchase required. The tea room would have bird cages, but without birds, because I can't abide the thought of birds in cages. Maybe the bird cages would double as lamps. Long benches and chaise lounges and comfy arm chairs and cushions and lots of little tables would be dotted all over the place, and bookshelves of all sorts and sizes randomly abound. Turning a corner would confront one with a new vista of books and great chairs on which to sit.

And it must be a second-hand book shop. I will know every book that has come into the shop, but I will resist the temptation to alphabetise or categorise them, wishing instead serendipitous book discovery on my customers. I sort of want my book shop to have a cat, but I don't like that cats kill wildlife. So I'm torn on the cat front.

There will be tea of every imaginable description, and teapots, collected from charity stores, of all kinds. Oh! And the coffee paraphernalia. Lots of that too.

My cinema will be cosy and have sofas and side tables. I will show an eclectic selection of film: from anime to horror, art-house to thrillers, with a smattering of period drama thrown in.

And there will be a laundrette because every one needs clean clothes.

3.My favorite quote from a book (mention the title) is…

I really like a particular quote from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The quote is about both Atticus and his relationship with his children. It is written initially in high-faluting language and then ends in a great twist of simple childish slang, jerking us straight back to Scout's perspective.

Jem and I were accustomed to our father’s last-will-and-testament diction, and we were at all times free to interrupt Atticus for a translation when it was beyond our understanding.
"Huh, sir?"

Like a lot of lawyers, I suppose, I love To Kill A Mockingbird. I identified quite keenly with Scout, and Jem was definitely my older brother, who is wiser and kinder than me, and whom I worship. Scout is a reading, blustering, naive and occasionally thoughtless, but mostly decent-hearted, tomboy. There's a lot of me in her.

4.The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be…

Roberto Calasso. He is very much alive, and must have a lively, inquiring mind. He is the archetypal polymath, I think, and I would melt in his presence.

5.If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except for the SAS survival guide, it would be…

Eh. I probably would not bring the SAS survival guide. I'd bring my Ba.

Book-wise: I really find this prompt an incredibly difficult one. I just can't get past the idea that if I'm on a deserted island, I probably did not plan to be there so I wouldn't know what book I will have with me. And it will have to suffice, won't it? It's somewhat contrary, because I don't have any difficulty hypothesising about an author whom I would like to lunch with, or detailing my imaginary bookshop/tearoom/cinema.

I know that the idea behind the prompt is what one book could I read over and over again, and which would keep me from going insane all on my putative lonesome; I just can't think of one that would fit that bill.

6.I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that…

held my books and kept them dry in the shower! yeah!

7.The smell of an old book reminds me of…

other old books: The Life Line Book Fest! I have posted on this over here.

8.If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be…

I usually want to be a character in every book I am reading, although not always the lead, and usually someone who is already remarkably like me but better in some way.

9.The most overestimated book of all time is…

The last Harry Potter. Enough said.

10. I hate it when a book…

has lost pages in the middle and you did not know about it when you bought it.

I once purchased a second-hand novel by Richard Brautigan, without realising that it was 'seconds' rather than second hand. My partner started reading it first and churned his way through the first 100 or so pages only to find pages 101 - 157 (or thereabouts) missing. I have never seen him so upset with a book in my life. He threw it across the room, then retrieved it, only to tear at it and, dramatically, bin it. I'm glad it was not me who started reading the book. I'm not sure I would have been so restrained.

I'm craparama at tagging. But I think Katie over at Minor Revisions should give this one a go, to distract her a little from her woes, and also Galaxy, if she can incorporate it into her current segues, and N.T if she can be bothered - (in my comments, as her blog is not a talkie-one).

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sugar Bananas

[Warning: This post is all about bananas.]

Wandering through Brick Lane on Sunday with my partner and a friend, we cross the sprawling pavement sellers of myriad goods, commenting on how chaotically like South East Asia it was to be wandering along a crowded street, dodging bikes and touts. Ahead of us, boxes of bananas were stacked up, and a woman calls out: "Normal bananas! Baby bananas!"

I walk past glancing curiously but with no intention of buying anything. "Baby banaNAS!" I take a few steps past her and then say to my partner: "Sugar 'nanas? I have to look." I walk back and look down at the boxes of bananas: they were indeed little, about the size of my thumb. I stop. I pick up a little bag of bananas. I peer closely at their skin: yes! It is thin, strongly indicative of the super sweet sugar bananas of home. I put the bananas down. I have had a huge lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant on Kingsland Road and I am much too full for bananas. What's more, I don't want to have to carry them all over London, before heading back to where we live in Southern England.

I look over at my partner and friend, who stand amidst the chaos, waiting patiently for me. To the woman standing near the boxes, I say: "How much for the little bananas?" "One pound," she replies. "For each hand?" I ask, confused. Each hand is bagged separately, but some have only three fingers, and some have more than ten. "For the box," she says dismissively.

I am heady with glee. One pound for a box of precious sugar bananas! For the many months that we have been in England, I have been eating cavendish (mostly fair-traded), not even my preferred lady fingers, which we used to buy at the Green Market from a man and his bewildered son, who grew them on their farm out near Gin Gin. In the supermarkets, you can only get cavendish - or dark green lady fingers. No thank you! We eat bananas almost everyday, on our morning cereal and muesli.

I rush over to my partner. "They're only one pound for the box! AND they're sugar 'nanas. Can I have a pound?"

He hands me a pound, wordlessly, and I run back to the stall.

Beside me, a man caresses one of the little bananas and leans in to me: "These ones are good," he says conspiratorally. I look down at the box he indicates, his hand resting proprietorally upon the lovely yellow bananas, still green tipped and the skin so fragile I can almost see it bruising under his fingers. I reply assuredly, my own hand on the box I want, "These are better."

Transferring my box of sugar bananas into two bags, I return to my partner and friend. "Look!" I say, with joy. "Aren't they cute? And they're sugar bananas."

Sugar bananas are tiny bananas. They are, perhaps, the smallest variety: no more than 3 or 4 inches. They are a brighter yellow than cavendish or lady finger, but because they ripen quickly and their skin is no more than a millimetre thick, they are often brown. The flesh, too, is more yellow, a creamy transluceny with clearly visible, but tiny, seeds. My mother likes hers mushily soft - I prefer mine slightly green tinged and harder. It is a battle, at home, of whether the sugar bananas will last long enough to be as ripe as my mother likes, before they have succumbed to my greed.

I am reminded of my mother when we were first able to get sugar bananas in Australia. She came home from the markets triumphantly nursing a large bag of bananas that looked much too ripe for my palette. My mother would often come home from markets with treats for us: bags of sugar plums and rambutans for me, if they were available; durian, mangosteens and custard apple for my sisters. The first time Um brought sugar bananas home from the markets, I was disappointed not to have sugar plums or rambutans. "Don't you remember these?" Um said to us. "I do!" One of my elder sisters took some bananas from my mother and started peeling. I wrinkled my nose at the over ripe smell, and wandered away.

At dinner that night, my mother uses a spoon to slice bits of banana, eating them with her rice. She breaks off a banana to give to me and I say no. "You used to love these," she admonishes. I shrug, a little sulky that I had not got rambutans instead.

The next day, I am looking for fruit to eat. My mother suggests I eat a banana and I say no. She sighs and says, "There are greener ones in the rice bin, but don't eat them all." In our rice bin are many more hands of the little bananas, and none of the lady fingers I think I prefer. I take out one, mostly green tinged, but with bits of yellow. It is kinda cute. I can eat it. I poke its skin and it browns straight away, which does not please me. Nevertheless, I peel and eat it. It is wonderfully sweet and much more pungent than other bananas. I take out another. And another.

My father saves some of the smaller bananas (he hides them from all of us, deep in the dark recesses of the pantry), he dries them out and tries to collect the miniscule seeds. A few years later, we have our own sugar bananas growing in our backyard orchard. I don't know if they come from the seed, or if (as he is wont to do) he has asked for a cutting from the sellers. They don't fruit as often as the larger banana, but they give my mother greater joy. Our house ceases to have lady fingers and I eat only the tiny bananas. Cavendish begin to look obscene, and much too large to be eaten.

Slowly, since living away from home, cavendish drift into the norm. They are the easiest to obtain, the most widely available, and the only ones with fair trade stickers. Even lady fingers have faded from my memory in this green and pleasant land. But, for this week only, fair trade, locally produced succumb to the pleasures of sweet tiny 'nanas. I can eat four in a sitting. Oh, joy.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Walking Home Again

I had a couple of experiences which jolt me with surprise about how I view my safety.

1. Walking home from work

I walk home from work through a large expanse of park, called 'The Common'. I find this an exceedingly pleasant way to end my working day. With the long summer hours, I can even walk home when I have had a late day at work. I tend to change my working shoes into running shoes, and I leave my work shoes at work, under my desk.

Other uses of The Common are fellow walking-commuters, evening-exercisers, dog-walkers and youthful layabouts. I say hi to the exercisers and dog-walkers, but my fellow walking-commuters ignore me (and I them), and I am much too uninteresting for the youthful layabouts.

A couple of weeks ago I was walking home and otherwise meandering inside my own head. There were three youthful layabouts, two female, one male, sitting on a park bench. As I passed, one of the girls said something, which I knew to be aimed at me, but which I did not quite hear. The tone was derisory. I chose to ignore her. Then she spat at me. Frothy white goop landed at my feet; I stepped over it and kept going. Behind me, the boy shouted something I could not make out and all three started laughing. When I got home, I was shaken. No one has ever spat at me before. I have had racist comments yelled at me. I have had sexist comments yelled at me. I have been grabbed, and held, by a mentally unstable man - I did not feel threatened by him and managed to extricate myself. I have had a broken bottle shoved into my face, also by a mentally unstable man, and again, I did not feel particularly threatened (although I was scared). The spitting was just uncalled for. And it made me feel unsafe. (I half knew the man with the broken bottle would jab it in my face).

2. Walking to the shops

I walk to and from the grocery stores. Not too long after the above spitting incident, I was walking home with my shopping. Picture, if you will, a young east-Asian woman in a pinstripe suit with a grocery bag under each arm - one bright orange, one hessian - just minding her own business and perhaps frowning a little as she carried her heavy groceries home. Going in the opposite direction, on the other side of the road, were two young women and one young man. The young man shouted something at me, which sounded like: ra ra ha ha ra. And then there was laughter. I stopped. I went to turn towards them to say something - anything - back. Except I did not know what. And the thought that ran through my head? This is not a nice area. I've heard of cars being burnt here. I walked on in fear. About a few metres later, I got really angry. I hate it when fear prevents me from defending myself against inanity.

3. Running through the Common

I occasionally (I've done this once, but I would like to more, hence the choice of word) run through the Common on my way home, for excercise. Usually when I run in the Common (on weekend mornings) I stick to the large paths. My partner on the other hand has waxed lyrical about how lovely ducking into the woods themselves are.

On my first afternoon run, I took the large paths, then darted off on a walkers only path. I ran up beside the lake and saw a lovely path into the forest, that twisted enticingly out of view. I took it. I ran until I came to a junction where three paths crossed. I chose one that veered off in the direction of home, as it was about roughly time to circle back again. The path I chose got narrower and narrower, and windier and windier. I leapt fallen trees and dodged nettle as much as I could. Then the blackberry bushes grew so close together I had to use my hands and shoulders to clear my path. I had turned so much I no longer knew which direction I was facing. I heard laughing voices in the near distance. I freaked out, did an about face and retraced my path back to the junction, back to the walkers only path, back to the nice large open concreted-over path. Heart thumping more from fear than from the exertion, I jogged on home again.

Not only had the laughing teenage voices reminded me of my earlier unpleasant encounters, I realised that no one knew where I was. My partner knew only that I was running home, via the Common. He would not expect me for another hour, would not start to worry for perhaps another two hours. I know that I would not, in his position. Work would not realise until the next day, and no one knew which direction I headed off in anyway. Only my partner and work would note my absence in the short term.

When I lived in a share house and went running in the early mornings, I drew a map of my planned path and my expected return time for my housemates. I almost always returned before any of my housemates even aroused themselves from sleep. Only one housemate, in my five or six years of house sharing, even saw my map. But I felt much better with the thought that, if I did not return and there was a note to say where I had been, someone would think to come looking for me.

When I lived with my parents, the rule was that I would inform them if I would not be home before dark. In my early university years, my mother got used to me walking out of the house calling out not to expect me home before her bed time. I once overheard my mother on the telephone to my aunt, complaining about how I was always out and she had no idea where. I tried a few times to tell her I was at a library until it closed, but she did not believe me. I think she wanted to believe that I was out with boys, taking drugs and partying hard, rather than holed up on the fourth floor of the law library with casebooks, or the second floor of the arts library with journals. At worst, I was in a cafe or movie theatre with friends. My juvenile delinquency never did get off to the right start.

I have got lazy. I do not do the little things anymore that make me comfortable doing activities which otherwise put me at risk of the nebulous thing out there that is dangerous to young women. I forgot to live in fear, because I have my mobile phone and my partner is well-versed with my habits. But the fear has come back in this New Place, so I need to find my parameters again.

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