Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain

Paula McLain has penned a novel based on the story of Ernest Hemingway's, American novelist (1899 - 1961), first marriage.  He meets her, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson, (1891 - 1979), at a mutual friend's boarding house in Chicago.  Between them there is an ease.  They fall in and out of conversation, and speak to each other about dreams and aspirations without any expectation.  Hadley, that's how she is known to her friends, is from St. Louis, and Ernest, Hem that's how amongst so many other ways, his friends call him, is from Oak Park.  Not that the location they are from matters; it is just a fact stated in the novel which attempts to be as much true to the original story as possible.
They correspond after Hadley returns home.  Ernest's letters is about his desire to establish himself as an author; not love letters.  He has heard aspiring writers go to Europe to be discovered.  One of his letters to Hadley begins like this, "Still thinking about Rome but what if you came along --as wife?"

They get married.  And move to Paris --instead of Rome-- she loves him, he is exuberant and vibrant. He sees in her the goodness truth, Hadley is good for him, is good for his writing.  Each lacks what the other offers.  It seems to be a perfect match.

Their life in Paris, despite Ernest's meager salary working for Toronto Star, is not too shabby.  They drink, socialize and travel well.  A big part of the book is about their trips to many different cities.  The most notable ones are the ski trips to Schruns, Austria and the bull fighting in Pamplona, Spain.
These trips strengthen his craft.  She is there for him, every step of the way, with little or no demand; her happiness is an extension of his.  Their friends, mostly the literary type, Gertrude Stein, Mike Strater, Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald, and .... say Hemingways know how to do marriage.

But even the strongest marriages and the most understanding couples can be teased.   What Hadley does to keep him is unfathomable; but in the end she has to let him go. 

Ernest moves back to the States as an established author with his mistress, Pauline Pfeiffer.

If I had been interested in Hemingeway's marriages and affair I would have picked up "Moveable Feast".  I may still do that, because Paula McLain's novel, The Paris Wife, made me interested in the artist and the city in a whole different way.

A good read!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Persian Pickle Club, by Sandra Dallas

As I was reading this book, I kept wondering about living back in the 1930's. I sure was not going to like it, or I sure was not going to like the version Dallas painted by chronicling the story of Persian Pickle Club. Quite a peculiar name for a club of ordinary women from all walks of life. There was definitely nothing specifically "Persian" about this club. Interestingly Dallas (in)advertently didn't let on the bond amongst the club members --so the end came as a surprise to me.

Being a part of the Pickles was an honor and attending the gatherings was the thing to look forward to in lives of these women who were otherwise (not so) busy with the chores of a sluggish farming season due to lack of rain --at least this was the case for Queenie Bean the narrator.

So, what happens when a new inductee to the club, not by choice but by association to another member, turns into a reporter and assigned to report on a local crime. Well, solving the crime is more important to Rita Ritter than being accepted to the club --this could be fine so long as the club doesn't have anything to hide.

Interesting read, written in old fashioned, supposedly 30's style language. At times I had doubts about whether Dallas was being true to that era, however I read someone's review on GoodReads who assures this indeed is the case, Jim Butler says: "Trust me, Sandra has done an awesome job of describing the people and the period in the flint hills area outside Topeka. One should read this book to truly understand our mid-American heritage and character. The plot is just a vehicle to get to that knowledge."

Mont-tremblant in April

You can get to Mont-tremblant ski resort by air too, but we decided to take the road.  There are a couple of options for flying there.

1. Fly to Montreal-Trudeau airport and take the shuttle, operated by Autocars Skyport, to Mont-tremblant resort.
2. Fly to Mont-tremblant airport and take the shuttle from the airport to the resort.

But if you decided to take the road, then prepare for six hours of straight, or nine hours of driving with breaks.  Most of the drive is in Ontario and on route 401 East.  Unless there is a an accident, the Ontario portion of the route is pretty straight forward.  If you get in a situation of abrupt halt and backed up traffic due to road construction or accident, it is best to look for the best way to get to, County Road 2 (formerly Highway 2), that runs in parallel and merges with 401 west of Brockville.  As for the Quebec portion of the route, I can only say --stay alert and pay attention to the signs!

We had a rental car, and although most of the route was in Ontario but had to pay $5 extra per day for permit to drive in the province of Quebec.  Tallying all the cost of renting, parking and filling up the tank of the vehicle we save $100 (per couple) over the price of air travel to this destination.

Booking hotel stay, ski lift, ski equipment, and spa in advance saves one up to 30%.

We stayed in Mont-tremblant Westin resort with special advance booking rate for the Starwood Preferred Guest members of $229 a night + $15 daily charge for parking.  I used the hotel gym and utterly enjoyed my indoor walks through the scenic forests of New Zealand and Germany on the treadmill.  The other nice thing about this hotel was the fire place in the room.  There was a well equipped kitchenette in the room which could have made up for the not very healthy and very expensive restaurants if we had taken our food with us.  The local supermarket has limited choices and is expensive.  Having said that dining at Maison De La Crepe provides an opportunity for a healthy start to the day. 
Maison De La Crepe, 113 Kandahar, Mont Tremblant, QCMiss Vitamines $11.33

The hills were covered with mix of man made and natural snow --which was more wet than powder.  But compared to skiing in Ontario even this was superb!
The South side of Mont Tremblant, the "trembling mountain." The summit is at  875 metres (2,871 ft), which makes it one of the tallest peaks in the Laurentians. [source: Wikipedia]

Friday, January 02, 2015

Visiting Montreal on Jan 1

Montreal Piere Trudeau airport is one building, all domestic and international flights depart and arrive here.  It is very convenient to navigate.

On the ground floor of this building, exit 27 [if you are paying attention to the numbers printed at each], is where the airport - down town bus, 747 AEROPORT P.E.-TRUDEAU / CENTER-VILLE, stops.  There is a ticket machine close by, where you can buy a day pass for $10, and pick up a 747 bus time table which has a map of metro from the information desk close to the exit.  The day pass is valid on the airport-down town bus as well as on metro, and all other buses operated by stm.  Most Montreal sights are accessible by public transit.  [I bought my ticket on the bus, I paid $10, exact change in coins.  But unfortunately, my ticket didn't scan at any of the metro station.  I went to the stm customer care, Service a la Clinetele, at the Berri-Uqam station and got a new day pass issued for me.]

There is metro station a short walk distance from the 747 bus' first stop, Linonel-Groux.  Taking the metro is faster than staying on the bus, I think, to down town, the Saint-Laurent station.

Now, since it was Jan 1, I had prepared a list of places that are open.

Notre - dame Bascillica - Roman Catholic church, Gothic Architecture, with a beautiful chapel in the back [110 Notre Dame street, metro: Place-D'Armes]  Jan 1 schedule morning mass, open for visitors 12:30-4:00 PM.

Bonsecours Basin Quays of Old Port [Ville Marie, metro: Champ-de-Mars] Skating rink admission: $9.00 Skate rental, $6.50+tax, themed music everyday in winter starting at 6PM, rink maintenance at 2 PM and maybe other times during the day, Jan 1 schedule 10 AM - 10 PM.

St. Joseph Oratory - Roman Catholic church - its dome the third largest in the world, Renaissence Architecture, escalators or taking the steps as a pligrimage to the chapel, overlooks the city of Montreal's Mount Royal Park. [3800 Queen Mary Road, metro: Cote-Des-Neiges]

Universite-de-Montreal, opened in 1878 with less than a hundred students in theology, medicine and law. [metro: Universit-de-Montreal]

I utterly enjoyed visiting all the places above; the city was clean, quiet and ready to welcome its visitors on Jan 1st.

Map of Montreal metro, run by stm.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Imitation Game

A burglary at Professor Alan Turing's house reported by one of his neighbours prompts the Scotland Yard to dig deeper into his life.  The inspector becomes suspicious of the victim instead of the suspect; he forges a signature to obtain military records of Alan Turing, but to his astonishment there is none, the envelope is empty.  The irony is that the movie about Alan Turing's life is as empty as that envelope appearing in the movie.

The let down of this movie, for me, was its glossing over the Turing the inventor and his invention*.  It lacked knowledge and substance.  Instead of celebrating the life of a man who invented the first machine that can "think", the audience left the theatre feeling sad and sorry for him.  Thank you very much Black Bear and Weinstein company for taking the life of a 20th century inventor and turning it into nothing but a sorrowful story. Now we all feel sorry for Alan Turing; he was chemically castrated to avoid prison and took his own life with cyanide at the age of 41 because he was a homosexual.  

The movie did have a climax, however, and that was when the team realized they can't use the decrypted Enigma code. I could hardly breath at that moment.  These men had just solved the biggest problem of the 20th century, yet they could not use their findings to save lives, because it meant turning the clock back to the beginning; more mathematics and statistics were needed to determine how the information should be used.

The movie benefits immensely from brilliant, talented cast.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Alan Turing
Alex Lawther, Young Alan Turing

Keira Knightly: Joan Clark, Matthew Goode: Hugh Alexander, Allen Leech: John Cairncross, 

  1. *A Turing machine is a hypothetical device that manipulates symbols on a strip of tape according to a table of rules. Despite its simplicity, a Turing machine can be adapted to simulate the logic of any computer algorithm, and is particularly useful in explaining the functions of a CPU inside a computer.

Should speaking the official language in public places become law?

These days the streets, trains, malls, shops, grocery stores, coffee shops, banks, in short all public places are so crowded.  Looks like the entire inhabitants of the city are making an attempt to be out and about.  There is so much noise, people in groups speaking loudly on the train, in the street, and pretty much everywhere. In midst of the hustle and bustle it's hard not to notice the variety of languages,other than one of the two official languages, French, or English, spoken.

Perhaps it is the convenience, and/or the peace of mind that prompts the choice of language.  Convenience that the language equips with all that is necessary to impress, express all the details of a narrative, and peace of mind that the words spoken is privy only to the individuals it is intended for.  If English or French are not spoken as widely as one would expect, it is perhaps because they cannot satisfy these needs.

 But what is the implication of such a choice?  On the surface it doesn't seem to have any [implication].  After all a conversation in a public place should be worthy only to its participants, and noise to the rest; the expressionless faces of non-participants is evidence of their indifference.  Even businesses hire people from many different ethnic backgrounds to be able to claim we-speak-your-language to encourage doing business with them.  Another variation of the same topic is the store signage printed in languages other than the two official languages, implicitly employing and serving a select ethnic group.

Toronto remains a mosaic of many languages. In 2006, forty-seven percent of the population had a mother tongue in a language other than English or French.

If we encourage, or ignore this trend, Toronto will not be one city, instead it will be hundred different cities within one city.  There won't be one Toronto, but a Chinese Toronto, an Italian Toronto, a Portuguese Toronto, a Russian Toronto, in short a Toronto divided amongst many visible minorities.  As a government thrives on having a majority, Toronto will also benefit from having a majority of its residents speaking either English or French fluently.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

It's nice to hear someone else tells a story you can so identify with, because of the state of mind you are in, or life experiences you have had. That's how I felt, at times, reading this book; at other times I felt encouraged.
With so little preparation and know-how, her decision to walk the Pacific Crest Trail is as rash, and reckless as her turning to heroine. But this time she is earnest to find a way out of the pain she has been carrying for four years, since she lost her mother. She was 22, and her mother 45 then.
Hiking through wilderness alone is no joke, and Cheryl details the seriousness and intensity of doing such a thing well. Plus, having an untrained body, shoes that don't fit properly, and a huge pack, a.k.a Monster, makes her survival through the journey and arrival at her destination, Oregon, incredulous. From black bears, fox, and humans she has encounters with all species and as significant as it may sound, they are amazingly non-life threatening.
She neither philosophize, nor dramatize; she chronicles her journey the way it happened. This, I appreciated very much.

Awards: Goodreads Choice Aware Memoirs and Autobiography
Published: March 2012
Adaptation: 2014


Sunday, September 28, 2014

On the Cancer Frontier, One Man, One Disease, and a Medical Revolution

The book is about the author's cancer research, his experiments to understand the miraculous impact of treatments on some  but not all individuals, and his journey to build a prominent centre, The Sloan Kittering Cancer Institute, dedicated to this  cause.

It's humbling to read the admittance that "no two cancers" are the same, even there are many differences amongst the signature of the same clinical types, colon and/or breast.  That identifying these abnormal patterns that kill, from the normal is challenging due to the slim delta in difference between them.

"Developing anticancer drugs is not like shooting at a fixed target;" because in the root of the battle lies an intelligent group of genes which communicate and coordinate their growth activity.

"Consider the successful drug Herceptin," the author remarks. "For years we were not sure why it worked only some cases.  Researchers finally discovered that the drug blocked a specific cellular signalling mechanism, or "receptor", that simulated breast cancer cell growth, but only 35 percent of women with breast cancer have that particular receptor."

There are numerous non-approved and experimental drugs touting the cure. These are often a by product of an unexpected result in a lab experiments which didn't repeat when tried on humans.  One of the more commonly known of such drug is DMSO.  When added to the mice cells which where colourless due to cancer, DMSO turned them red.  The red cells were identified as haemoglobin.  "DMSO had, in effect, switched on a genetic function in the leukimic mice blood cells that the disease had switched off."  This fascinating accident didn't repeat on the malignant blood cells of humans.

Unlike what we make or want to believe, "conquering cancer" is not within reach; we should accept that. Despite some progress, we are far from finding the "cure".  All we have is knowledge based on experiments, surveys, and statistics that perhaps help us to determine the survivor rate.  And potent drugs to alleviate the cancer pain and provide "comfort".

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The time keeper, Mitch Albom

The book is a fiction about what has become of us since we learned to measure time; and our desire to do more in less time.

The author develops two vastly different characters, one who wants too little time, and the other who desires eternity. They have been picked to be given the chance to see the consequence of their decision and revert it.

Our time here is not ours to choose, the book concludes. It is neither early nor late, but it is always when "it is is supposed to be". When the time comes, at that very moment, is the time that earth joins heaven...

Sweet book. It ends with hope!