Sunday, September 20, 2020

Positive Things 2020 Has Brought Me So Far

I see almost everyday in twitter how people hate 2020; how they wish it to be over, or even cancelled. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, I felt the same thing. It had promised great many things, but it was all smashed down by the virus. Everything was restricted, every plan was cancelled. I was terrified and tired all the time. But after about three or four months, I began to get used to it. New habits formed, and life began to make sense again - for me, at least.

And now, six month after the first Covod-16 case was confirmed in Indonesia (and you know how bad our government handle it), I begin to notice things I haven't realized before. It is my belief that there's always positive thing(s) that emerge from every ordeal. The current Covid-19 pandemic is no exception.

Hygiene and healthy habits

Before Covid-19 (when did you realize that your world would always be divided between before and after Covid-16?) - well before Covid-19, I said, I thought I'm a quite hygiene person. Apparently not. I have used to change clothes after coming home from work (I take online public transportation), but then just laid down and relaxing on my bed without taking shower first! I realized now how wrong that was.

Another thing, how often do you wash your hands during the day? I used to arrive at office in the morning without washing hands, and just sat down and work. Since I love snacking, I'd touch my cookies or fruits every now and then with my apparently dirty hands! I only washed hands before lunch (crazy, isn't it?). Since Covid-19 I have felt much healthier than ever. My allergy kept coming back, but it didn't turn to more severe illness like I used to have before.

What matters most

For the last six months I stay at home, except for work and grocery shopping. The church was closed, and we were forced to celebrate mass from home, through live streaming. I was devastated at first, but then I realized how online services could effectively eliminate distractions of regular mass, such as: too friendly parishioners who love to talk to you when you actually want to pray alone (we go to mass to pray to God, anyway, not to meet neighbors, right?) Some people even talk to me when I was praying! Then there's the fashionable people (sight distraction), or too loud a choir, or even the market stall outside the church who was roasting satay when the mass is still on, letting us to feel hungry by the smell!

I realized now how many distractions could occur in just one hour of mass, when we should have focused solely to God. No wonder I always felt so exhausted, bodily, after mass, but felt nothing in my soul. And these distractions are now completely eliminated by online mass. Nowadays I can attend the mass peacefully, wholly involved in the prayer and worship, feeling refreshed after each mass, and realize what matters most: my relationship with God.

Reading and blogging

You might have perhaps noticed how productive I have been, blogging-wise, since April. It's because suddenly I found time to do it. Staying at home, no visits to mall, no hangout with friends, no church events (which in the end don't really help my soul) - I thought I would be bored after a few months. But no, I spent hours every weekend for blog posts writing (usually two posts) and reading. And you know what, I've never felt satisfied and happier since long time ago. Hanging out with friends is fun, but at the end of the day, it's more exhausting than fulfilling. Not mentioning the quality time I can spend for... doing nothing!

I know that not everyone enjoys the same condition, many of you are probably struggling with either health or financial issue. The pandemic sucks, but please don't think about annihilating 2020. You'd never know what'd happen next. Being alive right now, and doing your best to keep your loved ones healthy and happy, isn't it nice and gratifying? And don't forget, Chrismast is only three months away (and I miss it very much!) Pandemic or not, you can always celebrate Christmas, if not with friends, artleast celebrate it with your self. Remember, there's always hope and positive things in every ordeal!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Dubliners by James Joyce

James Joyce is one of the authors I've been reluctant to read because I doubt I'd love them. So, before I plunge myself into a monumental read of Ulysses, I thought it better to sample the much lighter work of him: Dubliners.

Dubliners is a collection of fifteen short stories. The longest one is the last: The Dead, which is also the most beautifully written and I think, the best of all. I have always been insecured about writing thoughts on short stories collection - I tend to forget all the earlier stories, and so, often fail to find the real connection or the general idea. Maybe that's why short stories collection is never my favorite! But at least, I'm going to try with this one; and thanks to google, I've been able to find summary of all the stories to refresh my mind.

My method is finding the most striking themes of each story, and in the end producing some sort of clouds of ideas. These are what I had gathered from the fifteen stories:
- Death
- Religion (or Catholicism) and moral ambiguity
- Feeling of entrapped or trying to escape
- Loneliness
- Confused identity
- Unsatisfaction or envy
- Purposelessness
- Confused past and future

And so, from these themes, I think Dubliners is Joyce's media to capture the cultural changes of the Dubliners in the turn of 20th century - in particular for the youths. There are often these confusion of values, between their religious tradition and attraction of the modern capitalism; the typical problem of the turn of the century's generation, especially in Ireland, which was strong in their Catholicism. 

The stories also reflect the youths' longing to break the rigid tradition and old moral value. The college students' playing truant to seek adventure in "An Encounter" is one example. And then in "Eveline", the heroine is torn between running away with her lover or staying at home taking care of her demanding father. There is also in "A Little Cloud" this working class man who live modestly with his family, suddenly feeling revolted at his mediocrity existence. The most revolting one is "A Mother", where a mother defended her daughter who didn't get paid as promised in a show. While she is rightfully threatening the director, others (actors and management) condemned her. The more obvious example of the moral declining is in "Two Gallants", a story of two young men who lure maids to steal for them, money from their ladies. Although Dubliners was written before WWI, I sensed the same confusion and purposelessness in the Lost Generation - the lost of old values they have been brought up with, and the awkward effort to embrace the modernity.

Apart from the theme, Dubliners is also Joyce's way to express his affection of Dublin. I loved to read about the cultural interests within the stories. I learned, for example, about Barmbrack, Ireland's traditional cake, which closely resembles what we call in Indonesia: Ontbijtkoek, the Dutch spiced cake.

The goloshes is another thing that had interested me. I thought it means just boots, but apparently it functions as shoecover, protecting the shoes from mud or snow. It looks fashionable too!

Last but not least, I was amazed by Dublin's Pigeon House Fort, an Ireland national heritage I've found from "An Encounter". I'm grateful that the two boys have decided to take a one day vacation along the Canal Bridge and Wharf Road, then taking the ferryboat. It's a pity they didn't get to the Pigeon House - which fortunately, I have found this coverage of Pigeon House in YouTube:

All in all, this has not been a simple reading, there's death theme everywhere (which I didn't understand till now what it represents), and I didn't finish one story: "Ivy Day in the Committee Room", which I didn't understand at all. But on top of these difficulties, I have found a poignant beauty in the last story: "The Dead". So, I guess 3,5 / 5 is a fair rating, but maybe... no more Joyce for the time being!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Physical or E-book? My Final Answer

Physical book or ebook? It has been one of the hottest bookish debates for years. Some still love physical books, but some start opting for more practical ebooks. I have been mostly neutral these years, still loving physical books, but also enjoying ebooks. I owned a Kindle e-reader years ago, but nowadays I prefer Google Playbooks, as it's more eficient: only one gadget for all. In short, I was not fanatical when it comes to book shape, just so I can read. But the other day I saw one tweet that asked: "are you a physical copy or ebook person?" And all of a sudden, it has all settled for me!

You see, my reading range has lately been narrowed down to classics. About ten years ago I still maintained not less than three book blogs (what I was thinking back then?!): one for classics, one for hisfics, and the other for popular genres. Years later, I abandoned my popular genre one, and focused more on the classics (this blog), and the hisfic one. But in the last five years I've been more and more attracted to classics - and so now I focus mostly on Fanda Classiclit. This year, for instance, all of my read books are classics.

Even my book shelves are nowadays dominated by classics; the non-classics area has been largely invaded by the classics (sorry, NC guys!). I now see my future self as a classics reader, who at times would pick non classics if they interest me. I think this preference has helped me to settle my personal debate on physical copy vs ebook once for all:


= I feel more connected to a story when reading it from physical book. It's like the sentences become alive - something I rarely feel with ebooks. Do you feel it too?

= I can freely annotate, highlight, underline, or dog-ear physical copy whenever I find something interesting, touching, or important. It's like when you exclaim: hear, hear! to something that really excites or defines you while listening to a speech, like: That's It! Well, you can still tap highlight in your e-reader and bookmark a page, but somehow it feels different. It's like you're reading a speech from newspaper, instead of listening to the live version.

I love to write in my book. My copy of Moby Dick, for instance, is full of penciled annotations (words I don't understand or subjects I'd like to google later on). And I also write summary below each chapter-end, because I'd soon forget what it's about after months later (and Moby Dick is a book you won't read in just a week or two, right?). These things, you can't do with ebooks. I read somewhere that handwriting is very different to typing, it's a multisensory activity that makes you understand and memorize better. Do you think so? However, I don't make annotation as a must. I write down on my book whenever I need to express or emphasize something. It can be just in once in a page, but sometimes all over the pages. :))

= Physical book promotes slow reading, better digesting, and deeper reflecting on a book, much better (for me, at least) compared to ebook. I tend to read fast with ebook. That's why I love reading mysteries or thrillers in ebooks, but for classics... it doesn't work as good as physical book.

= I often hear readers saying how they love the smell of a book... Well, I'm not that kind of reader. I'm also allergic to dust mites and molds, which can often be found in old books. No, I prefer new books really, and I never pay much attention to the fresh ink smell, or whatever, either. However, I love colors and paintings on physical books covers, something I can cherish as my own. I love my books, the substance as well as the contents. I don't feel the same with ebooks. And that's why I keep forgeting books that I keep in my Playbooks library - I feel that they don't really belong to me. Does that make sense?

= It's not fair to not mentioning positive points of ebook. Well, I like ebooks for the cheaper prices (even free for classics), space saving, and adjustable font sizes. Google Playbooks, on particular, giving samples for each ebooks. It's very helpful when I can't make my mind whether to like a book or not. I can always download the sample and browse a chapter or two. It's especially useful to get cheaper price for shorter or less famous books.

So that's it, it's settled now, I will focus more on paperbacks! What about you? Do you prefer reading classics from physical or ebook? Or both?

Friday, September 4, 2020

Author Birthday [September] : Richard Wright

#AuthorBirthday is a monthly feature, in which I highlight one author each month, mostly the ones I have not yet read. Part of the aim is to get familiar with the author and (hopefully) encourage me to start reading his/her work.

For September, please welcome:


Richard Nathaniel Wright is an American writer. His most notable novel is Native Son, but besides novels, he also wrote short stories, poems, and non-fictions, mostly on racial injustice theme.

Born at Rucker's Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi in 4 September 1908, Wright is the son of Nathan Wright, a sharecroppers, and Ella Wilson, a school teacher. Both parents were born free after Civil War, though Wright's grandparents had both been born into slavery, and had only been freed after the war.

Nathan Wright left the family when Richard was six years old, so his mother moved Richard and his younger brother to their grandparents' house. Richard accidentally put the house on fire, for which his mother beat him until he's unconscious. His childhood was quite hurly burly with a lot of moving, and never enough time to get a proper education. The Wrights moved in next to Richard's Uncle Silas' house in the Mississippi Delta. However, not long after, they were forced to move out again after Uncle Silas "dissapeared", reportedly being killed by a white man who envied his successful salon business. :(

Richard then lived briefly with his other uncle after his mother got stroke, but the family eventually returned to Natchez, to the grandparents' house, who were, by the way, still mad at Richard for burning their house, and often beat him. On the positive side, however, here Richard had chance at last to attend proper schooling after twelve years. He excelled at school, though lived quite miserably under control of his pious aunt and grandma who forced him to pray to God. This treatment made him grew with hatred against Christianity in his entire life.

Richard's literary career began when he wrote his first short story at fifteen years old and got it published in the local Black newspaper. As the class valedictorian of his high school, Richard was assigned a paper to be delivered in the graduation in 1925. However, the principal later asked him instead to read a prepared speech, as "to avoid offending the white school district officials". Richard insisted to read his own paper, which he did, despite the school's threat to deny his graduation. Bravo, Richard!

Richard must ended his education, however, to support his mother and brother. And so, his childhood in Mississippi has wrought a bitter impressions of American racial, which later on influenced his writing. The family then moved to Chicago in the Great Migration. He worked as postal clerk, but then fired during the Great Depression in 1931. Richard completed his first novel: Cesspool in 1935, after joining the Communist Party in 1933. But the novel wasn't published until 1963, posthumously, and retitled: Lawd Today. He also wrote critical essays and poetry, and became editor for Communis Party magazine.

In 1938, in the same year that Richard developed a friendship with writer Ralph Ellison, Harper publishing company publised his first short stories collection: Uncle Tom's Children, which finally brought him his first national attention. Ralph Ellison became his best man when Richard married a Russian-Jewish modern dance teacher named Dhimah Rose Meidman. Unfortunately, the marriage only lasted one year. He married the second time with Ellen Poplar, a Communist organizer in Brooklyn - a marriage which was blessed with two daughters: Julia and Rachel.

With growing status and financial condition after Uncle Tom's Children, the Wrights moved to Harlem, where Richard wrote Native Son (published in 1940). It was a huge success, and was actually selected by Book of the Month Club, making it the first book by African-American author ever been selected. Native Son was also staged in Broadway in March 1941 with favorable reviews, as the result of Richard's collaboration with a playwright named Paul Green. Richard's memoir: Black Boy was published in 1945, a year before he moved to Paris, which instantly became a best-seller. In Paris he befriended Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, under whose influences, Richard became an existentialist, which inspired his second novel: The Outsider.

In 1955 Richard attended the Asian-African Conference (Bandung Conference) held in Bandung, Indonesia, as reporter. His observations on the conference and Indonesian cultural condition was published under title: The Color Curtain: A Report on the Bandung Conference. During this visit, he was also invited by Mocthar Lubis, an Indonesian prominent writer, to give two lectures to a Indonesian cultural group: Pen Club Indonesia. Richard later depicted all this in his travelogue.

Near the end of his life, Richard has become an important figure in literary and politics with worldwide reputation. But he still had energy left to publish a collection of lectures: White Man, Listen! in 1957 and The Long Dream, a novel (1958). He died from heart attack in Paris on 28 November 1960, but Julia, his daughter, claimed it was murder. He died without ever finishing his last novel: A Father's Law, which was published posthumously later on by Julia in January 2008. Richard was buried in La Père Lachaise Cemetery. Today his novel Native Son is generally agreed as "a force in the social and intellectual history of the United States in the last half of 20th century".

Have you read anything by Richard Wright? Native Son  perhaps? What do you think of his writing?

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola [second read]

The third novel of the The Rougon-Macquart cycle introduced us to another field in the modernization of Paris brought by the Second Empire: the newly built great central market of Les Halles.

The leading character is Florent Quenu. He is the brother in law of Lisa Macquart (the eldest child of Antoine Macquart). Lisa's husband is Florent's younger brother: Quenu. The couple married and run a charcuterie business. Florent is an escaped convict from Cayenne (Devil's Island), as he was found by the gendarmes in a "suspicious manner" during the December 1851 coup d'état. Though he's innocent, he's deported nevertheless to Cayenne. Now he returned to Paris, thin and haggard, found for the first time by Madame François, a gardener who sells her vegetables on the pavement outside Les Halles.

The Quenus received Florent in their house, concealing his origin as Madame Quenu's cousin. Florent soon got a job as Inspector of the fish market. He began to feel overwhelmed by the vastness of Les Halles, and felt entrapped and drown by its abundance of food. He, the Thin man, felt lost and disgusted amidst the excessive food provided for the Fat (the bourgeoise), particularly at the Quenu's charcuterie. Zola portrayed the vastness of Les Halles as that of a cathedral, a town, and even a forest:

"Then they turned into another covered avenue, which was almost deserted, and where their footsteps echoed as though in the vault of an empty church."

"As they turned into the broad central avenue, he imagined himself in some foreign town, with its various districts, suburbs, villages, walks and streets, squares and intersections..."

"And high above this phantom town, stretching far away into the darkness, there appeared to be a mass of luxuriant vegetation, a monstrous jungle of metal, with spindle-shaped stems and knotted branches, covering the vast expanse as with the delicate foliage of some ancient forest."

Florent then succumbed to his old republican ideas, after mingling with Gavard and his "political friends". They were designing a resurrection in Paris. Florent, who were already disliked by the fishwives (the stall holders in the fish market), now brought a threat to the Quenus household by his political views. And that's why he must be get rid of. Who's gonna win in the end - the Fat or the Thin? Of course you already know the answer to this.

Les Halles, which is called the belly of Paris, symbolizes the excess of food (luxury) to fulfill the bourgeoise insatiable appetite during the Second Empire. Claude Lantier, a painter, Lisa's nephew (later appeared in The Masterpiece) voiced Zola's views on this subject. He loved to capture the beauty of fresh produce displayed at the market, but on the other hand, he hated the idea that the abundance of food would be swallowed by "those bourgeois bastards", as Claude called it. 

He further invented the irony of the Fat and the Thin. The Fat represents the middle class or bourgeoisie with their passion of luxury, while the Thin is the poor working class. But Claude made an exception for Madame François, who lived modestly and happily in the village, who, according to Claude, doesn't belong to either category. So, I guess, the moniker Fat and Thin works only for the middle class with insatiable desire for luxury, and the working class who dream to get rich, or those with hate, bitterness, envy towards the bourgeois. Florent, Gavard, and Claude are definitely the Thins, but not Madame François. On the other hand, the fishwives with their ambitions are the Fats. 

But the Quenus should have been excluded, because they live contentedly from their own business (which they worked on diligently), never doing harm to others. Their treatment towards Florent in the end is justified, because he is plotting to cause chaos in the neighborhood. The Quenus has received him in their house, even offering him half of Gradelle's money. But Florent, the ungrateful dreamer, had the audacity to plan the revolution from inside the house! He never even thought about what trouble he would bring to his brother. See.. the Thin is equally dangerous for France as is the Fat! If I were in Lisa's position, I would do exactly what she had done.

To sum up, Zola's "treatment" towards Lisa is the only negative point I granted this book. I had enjoyed the reading immensely, and loved every minute of it, especially the daily activities of the fish market and the charcuterie - the fishwives' intrigues, the competition of La Belle Lisa and La Belle Normande. Lisa Quenu has become one of my favorite characters of the Rougon-Macquart, because of her sensibility and intelligence.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Classic Character: Lisa Quenu of The Belly of Paris

Lisa Quenu is perhaps my most favorite character from the 20 novels of Rougon-Macquart cycle. I always think the Rougons are boring, while the Macquart are mostly full of "colors", and thus, much more interesting. However, from the Macquarts' offsprings (Lisa, Gervaise, Jean), I think Lisa is the least "flawed".

In the opening novel: The Fortune of the Rougons, Zola wrote that Lisa "was big, good-looking child, very healthy and sanguine, and looked very much like her mother. But she had not inherited her mother's animal-like capacity for hard work. Macquart had implanted in her a firm desire for ease and comfort." I think Lisa is the perfect balance of her mother and father, in term of character flaws. She loves ease and comfort, but unlike Macquart, she earns it with working diligently. But unlike her mother, she chooses a profession that requires her brain, more than physical labor, so that she can put her work and comfort in a perfect balance. That's what I love most from Lisa, because I, too, love balance of work and leisure.

Lisa is so fortunate that a middle class woman (the wife of a postmaster) took a fancy on her when she was a child, and hired her as a maid. Later on when the postmaster was dead, the wife moved to Paris, taking Lisa with her while she's only 12 y.o. Maybe that's how Lisa managed to "skip" the worst part of her parents: drunkenness.

I also admire Lisa's patience, discipline, and determination, as was portrayed in The Fortune of the Rougons: "When she was still very small she work for a whole day in return for a cake." Later on she would show these qualities after the owner of a charcuterie named Gradelle, who hired her to attend the counter, died suddenly. Lisa and Quenu - Gradelle's nephew who handled the cookery - found Gradelle's hidden money under the salting tub and decided to move the business to a more respectable place. The couple, combining Lisa's refined taste and great skill at business and marketing, with Quenu's passion of cooking, run the charcuterie together, made it a perfect family business.

So, finally, Lisa's dream of living respectably came true. She combined work and pleasure to achieve peaceful and comfortable life. That's my dream life! In running the successful charcuterie, Lisa shows her sensibility, intelligence, and orderly qualities. Zola mentioned her as of sanguine person, but I don't agree. She's more an introverted person. She minds her own business, dislikes social activity (outside 'business hospitality'), and hates drama. Her life evolves around her family (husband and daughter). She doesn't gossip, and when trouble comes (Florent's growing revolutionary activities), she silently consults the priest, and then acts methodically what she thinks best. She doesn't envy the rich people, and never talks about others' faults. She even takes Florent in her home though she distrusts him, just because Quenu loves his brother. Maybe her only flaw is ever competing with La Belle Normande. It's useless, and she should be above that.

Lisa Quenu (née Macquart) might be a fictional character most relatable with myself. No exaggeration, everything in a moderate, balanced level. That's why we can never be heroine of any story, because others would find our lives dull.

What do you think of Lisa Quenu?

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Belly of Paris Ch. 2-3: Quenu Brothers & the Busy Markets

Chapter 2 introduces us to the Quenu brothers, and the bustling of the fish market and the charcuterie business in 19th century. Believe me, the later is much more exciting than the Quenus! :P

= The Quenu brothers

Florent is the son of his mother and her first husband. After his father died, she remarried a man called Quenu, and got another son: little Quenu, the sous prefecture. The mother put all her hopes in Florent, so she paid his education in law school, that one day he could get a job as solicitor. While Quenu, well, he's a lazy, sturdy lad, who stays at home with mommy.

After the mother died, Florent became private teacher, while keep spoiling Quenu. When Florent is ill, Quenu realized that he must take a profession. From watchmaking, ironsmith, and ten other professions, he finally put his interest in cookery. He works in restaurants, and finally sets up in his uncle Gradelle's charcuterie (Gradelle is Madame Quenu's brother).

In the meantime, Florent became Republican, got arrested by the police during the December 1851 coup d'état, and being sent to Cayenne (Devil's Island). Then Uncle Gradelle died; so Quenu and Lisa Macquart (the girl Gradelle has recruited for the counter) found the money Gradelle's has been keeping, decided to marry and took over the business. The business prospered, and the Quenus set up a comfortable life, combining work and comfort, as middle class (or as Zola put it, petite bourgeois). That is...until Florent returned, having been runaway from Cayenne.

= Fish market

Florent got a job as Inspector for fish market, and we are entertained by Zola's minutest details of the fish market daily activities. From the variety of fish with their colors and shapes, to the hustle bustle of the auction. So the fisher (or the agent?) would bring loads of fish in baskets. A checker will check and sort the fish, set them up neatly for display. Then the auctioneer will start the auction on each item, while the clerks take notes of prices and buyers. The bidders are the fishwives (stall holders who will sell the fish in their stalls), and sometimes gentleme would bid for a basket of fish to be shared, perhaps, with friends. It's kind of fun to read.

= The black pudding

I am most interested in the charcuterie daily bustles. Zola wrote the passages so vividly, that you could imagine how the displays look and smell, but more than that, I'm so interested in the making of the black pudding (seasonal specials of the Quenu-Gradelle charcuterie), that I particularly searched on youtube, and found a video on how to make black pudding. You know, Chinese people call it Lap Cheong, and I have thought that these brown pork sausages (that's what our family call it) are Chinese traditional cuisine. I had no idea the European call it Black Pudding! It's a delicious delicatessen, but I never imagined that it's made of pork blood. What a gross process, but what a delicious food it resulted! Here's the video of how to make the modern black pudding:

That's all I've got from chapter 2 and 3. I know it's all just the beginning. The next three chapters might not this 'sweet' - it's Zola, anyway...