Posts Tagged ‘blog’

Gratitude & Judaism v Christianity when discussing existential psychotherapy & neurology!

12 March, 2018

GratitudeGratitude by Oliver Sacks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very short book. I had read two of the essays before, this time I got the audio book and listened to them. Sometimes it is a different experience. Just four essays written by Oliver Sacks before he died. All the links are to the essays as they were originally published.

The first essay, Mercury or the Joy of Old Age is a brief meditation on what it will mean to him to be very old, 80.

The second essay, My Own Life on learning the cancer from his eye has metastised and is now terminal. It’s quite moving.

The third essay, My Periodic Table relates his life, and the treatment for his cancer to the elements.

The fourth essay, though, the last one, is the one that stands out for me. In part because I come from a similar background, in part because my flat in London is quite literally around the corner from Sacks’ family home, although by the time I arrived there, it was only a Jewish area in a very small way. It was now an eclectic mix of young professionals, Londoners, Jamaicans and Irish. Still there was a very good bagel shop…

It is also my favourite because of a quote I have loved for a very long time, it’s by Chaim Potok, from his novel The Chosen. The quote is peculiarly apposite as Sacks’ cancer started in his eye.

“Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much, if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye?

I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing; but the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing; but the man who lives the span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life.

It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning- that, I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here.”

The essay Sabbath is a perfect elucidation of that quote by a man who gave life meaning to many despairing people and after a long life well-lived, deserved his eternal rest.

Alev HaShalom, rest in peace, Oliver.


message 1: by Will
WillBeautiful. I read these NYT essays online just after finishing his autobiography and thought they were some of the most moving pieces he had ever written.

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message 2: by Choko
ChokoGreat review, thanks!

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message 3: by Caroline
CarolineWhat a wonderful review…

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message 4: by Kalliope
KalliopeI was eyeing this recently… Glad to encounter your review.

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message 5: by Forrest
ForrestThis review is inspiring!

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Petra XKalliope wrote: “I was eyeing this recently… Glad to encounter your review.”

The links to all the essays are there, so you can read the book like that. A freebie with no review required! If you do, I hope you enjoy them.

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Amy (Other Amy)Fantastic review, Petra. I will definitely be reading these when I get a quiet moment.

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message 8: by [deleted user]
Great review there, Petra

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Petra XThanks all. I really appreciated all those lovely comments.

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message 10: by [deleted user]
I’m sorry, when i commented i forget to like it.

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Iris PLovely review Petra, enjoyed it very much…

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message 12: by Michael
MichaelI love the wisdom you’ve found to answer toe Potok quote. Reminds me a bit of my favorite Leonad Cohen line: We are so small between the stars, so large against the sky. Still, the problem of suffering looming so large isn’t really answered, but as one of the largest unsolved problems from Job on down that’s quite understandable.

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Petra XMichael wrote: “Still, the problem of suffering looming so large isn’t really answered…”

I think suffering and pain have to be defined before answering the ‘problem’. Potok differentiates ‘pain’ as in the world. Well there is plenty of that. ‘Suffering’ is something personal. He puts ‘suffering’ up against ‘meaning’. Meaning, in the context of the quote is being successful at something, not a one off, but something that takes time and effort that has made a difference in the world. (Perhaps raising children successfully, perhaps discovering a cure for cancer). That would make us happy. And that offsets the suffering.

The pain of the world doesn’t need to be addressed because it is just part of the human condition, I think Potok means, and we can lift ourselves above it by giving life meaning.

Does that make sense? I know what I want to say but I don’t think I have expressed it well enough.

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message 14: by Michael
MichaelPetra X wrote: “Michael wrote: “Still, the problem of suffering looming so large isn’t really answered…”

I think suffering and pain have to be defined before answering the ‘problem’. Potok differentiates ‘pain’…”

Seems a germ of somethimg fresh yet connected to a long line of efforts to formulate why we are on Earth. Part of what people struggle for to account for resilience (Rabbi Kushner and Frankl before they invented the word). Lot of good juice from writers near their end sometimes, when their back is against the wall and they don’t want to go gentle into that good night. I got a lot of good clarity like that from Hitchen’s Mortality. Other writers get less clear and more mystical or hyperbolic. Grief over another’s loss, impending or in the aftermath, leads writers to look at the puzzle of life and death and suffering in a burst of creativity as well. Thinking of Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Harding’s Enon.

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message 15: by Petra X (last edited Dec 04, 2015 06:41AM) rated it 5 stars
Petra XChaim Potok, a Rabbi, was saying (to me) in this quote nothing with deeper meaning. That is the genius of the quote. It is clear and precise.

Christianity and Judaism are two completely different paths. Christians think there should be just one. That is part of their purpose and reason for being here. Jews think it is just one path and Christianity another (and Islam etc. others) and they can all run alongside each other. Perhaps this is because more than anything Jews started off as, and remain, a tribe who live in a certain (and endlessly obsessive way) and tribes can coexist with others.

It is very Christian to ask ‘why are we here’ and therefore to look for the purpose of their existence (and meaning) in life. I know that is an essential part of Christian life and it generally comes out as ‘to serve’, to convert people to also being Christian, to get them to ‘see the light’, to find the reason God put them here. The corollary is that if you see the light you will not be punished in the hereafter with all those that do not recognise Jesus, but will be ‘saved’ and lived for all eternity.

But there is nothing like this in Judaism. It is a much more existential take. There isn’t an aferlife to be saved for, so Jewish philosophy doesn’t include the why are we here, how do we divine our God-given purpose and what do we need to do to save ourselves and others?

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message 16: by Michael
MichaelPetra X wrote: “Chaim Potok, a Rabbi, was saying (to me) in this quote nothing with deeper meaning. That is the genius of the quote. It is clear and precise. Christianity and Judaism are two completely different …”

Fascinating. Thanks for taking the time for the synthesis. Was always fascinating how Sachs could parse how his patients made meanings through the distortions of the altered neural experience. I never thought of how his Jewishness might have affected his lens. I loved to get some of his family origins from “Uncle Tungsten” and think I will enjoy these essays. I keep thinking about the characters who come to your bookstore looking a certain books to inform their search for meaning on quirky paths.

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Petra XMichael wrote: “ his patients made meanings through the distortions of the altered neural experience. I never thought of how his Jewishness might have affected his lens…”

I think his Orthodox upbringing did. Christianity is directed towards salvation and earning an afterlife through believe in Jesus, Fate, “things happen for a reason” and “God never sends you more than you can bear” and the idea of being tested or being here for a purpose are all foreign to Judaism.

Jews aren’t even allowed to question an afterlife being as we cannot know, all that is said is “eternal rest” .* Everything else is continually questioned and there is no authority, any rabbi or none is an authority. So Jews are entirely of this life.

The questioning of everything starts very young perhaps as soon as we can read. Sitting in the synagogue following the passage of the Torah being read in the Chumash is kind of boring. The passage is printed in Hebrew and English and the bottom of the page is Rashi, who interprets the passage word by word. Later, in Cheder (Hebrew school analagous to Sunday school but four nights a week plus Sundays) Rashi will be d questioned and other viewpoints including the students own will form part of the discussion. There is never a right answer, not even Rashi’s. It’s the arguments that count, you believe something means whatever it does to you. I think that’s where Sacks was coming from.

*There is the somewhat mythological resurrection that will happen ‘some day’ but this appears to have arisen in medieval times. Also there is plenty of belief in the afterlife among individuals no doubt derived from the desire that all is not lost with loved ones after death and influenced by popular culture.

I’m an existentialist, I don’t believe in any religious stuff at all. I just know it because of my upbringing. But in a non-religious way I did apply it to my son, maybe that’s why he’s become a lawyer. (Argumentative!)

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Mother of God

10 March, 2018

Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western AmazonMother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon by Paul Rosolie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was very eager to read this book as I had spent three months up the Amazon living in a settlement of Caboclo Indians. These are mixed race from the rubber boom of the 19th century. They hadn’t gone to the cities to live but remained in the jungle intermarrying with those they called ‘the painted men’. They had no contact with tourists of any kind and I was the first non-Indian to have visited them.

How I got there was I was sailing around the world with three friends and when we got to Brazil, they all went to Rio de Janeiro and I thought it was my one and only chance to go up the Amazon. Over the next month I went first to Belem, then Santarem ending up in Manaus. I spent a few weeks working out how to avoid the tourist routes and arranged tours. I was in a travel agency when the guide, an Indian, said he was going back home for three months and did I want to come? We negotiated a price and then after a fantastic two day journey sailing on river boats, canoes, a bus (it got stuck at a pot hole big enough to sink it in which Victoria Regina lillies 6′ across were growing) and finally walking we got to Lake Amañas in Amazonas.

40 or so people lived around this lake which was so big it took a river motor boat 2.5 hours to sail around. A few people lived in houses on stilts, one with the most beautiful parquet floor a la William Morris I have ever seen, but most on floating houses. I lived in the latter. The dish-washing and toileting arrangements involved holes in the sweet-smelling wood floor with pirañas waiting to clean the plates or receive… offerings.

My days were filled with fishing with seine nets and leaky pirogues, hunting with spears and dogs, music on tiny little guitars and panpipes and visiting the people who lived around the lake. I was most impressed by the medicine man who was as graceful and beautiful as a ballet dancer and who applied sound hygenic and herbal principles to his work, he wasn’t a shaman. I learned how to catch crocodiles in my bare hands although I only did it once (it was enough!)

So when the author writes about his trips into the jungle, I’m not exactly ignorant and he is writing to impress with things he says are unique but in fact are quite everyday.

The Amazon rises and falls 40′ a year from the melt-water of the snow in the Andes. This means that the forest can be flooded for part of the year, then it is known as igapo, and trees quite tall can look like little bushes when you manoeuvre your leaky canoe around them. I arrived when the waters had gone down considerably and on dry land there was a small tree with a dead and stinky anaconda draped from not far above the ground, over the top and down to the ground again. It was bigger than anything in the Guinness book of world records and eclipsed the author’s biggest ever 25′ one. The author said he fantasised that if he had taken a picture it would have been on the front cover of Time. Judging by the size of the tree the dead one I saw was between 35-45 ft. long. The Indians I was with said that it was a big snake, unusual but not unique and that they left it there as a warning to other snakes not to come near.

Another thing was when the author described the ‘rarely-seen landscape of floating islands’ by moonlight. These floating islands were common on the lake where the river flowed very slowly through. They vary greatly in size from a small rug upwards. They are made up of matted grass roots, the beautiful water hyacinth and small bushes. I was told you can’t walk on them, although the big ones will support your weight because they are full of biting ants. Also, in the daytime, crocodiles hide under them for the shade.

Once, when I was visiting the medicine man I tied up my canoe to the bank but when I came back an hour or two later I found myself land-locked by a huge island, the size of a football pitch. All you can do is push it with the paddles, it’s a heavy job, until it starts to part and move off slowly. They are never stationary for long.

The last example I want to write about is his encounter with ‘rare, fast-moving’ morpho butterflies. So rare apparently that his Indian friend takes a leaf to wrap up a dead one the author found in a parcel. I was out hunting one day with the medicine man’s son. We had two dogs with us and spears and found ourselves in a beautiful little glade with a small pool in the middle and sunlight shafting down from high up above the canopy. There were morphos everywhere! Although the author says they were very fast fliers, these ones were taking it easy. Their huge, hand-size wings, glimmering and shining all the blues a sky can be, as they glided around the glade sometimes settling on us. One brushed my cheek with a wing and left a drift of angel dust. It was like an enchantment.

The author left the Amazon and went to India. He became just the sort of bleeding heart white liberal that infest the Caribbean sitting on committees to preserve the natural environment or even taking it back and not giving a damn about how the locals are supposed to make a living. They’ve made their pile, they’ve got a house and family ‘back home’ now they want to see a paradise preserved for their winter homes.

Conservation is important. Good conservation is taking necessary progress into account and negotiating a way through that. When that isn’t done, people will remain not just poor when they can see they needn’t be, but bitter and seek to take what they can. Poaching, burning, corrupt politicians (and huge foreign conglomerates) are their weapons.

So what finally got me to put the book down was this sentence that shows the attitude of the author that he finds elevated and admirable and I find beyond irrelevant:

“What is it about our species that allows us to watch sitcoms and argue over sports while cultures and creatures and those things meek and green and good are chopped, shot and burned from the world for a buck? “

All creatures are not meek and good, but his point is, as is with a lot of propaganda, if you can’t work it through the facts, then go for the emotions, guilt-trip ’em. It is implied that we should get off our lazy arses and fill our days and evenings with meaningful work towards conserving the wildlife of this planet just like he does, no time for levity, frippery or going to the pub.

This is a bit like blaming people for the problems of pollution and Garbage on the planet when really it is industry, from cafes on up, that are responsible for over 95% of it. As long as it’s the individual doing their best to be green, we will get swallowed by a massive wave of communal self-congratulation and governments, industry, banks and businessmen will continue on in their own sweet way, destroying the planet for money. This should not be an emotional issue as it is sold, it certainly isn’t to industry or the banks. So that sentence of his and its import made me dnf this book.

Now it could be that if I didn’t know the Amazon so well, didn’t live on a beautiful island where conservation and progress are in opposition but forever butting up in the middle, that I would have enjoyed this book. Instead I found it to be ego-driven with the author’s great delight in being such an interesting person. He wasn’t. His adventures weren’t spectacular to me and the unique events were commonplace.

Two stars. One extra because it was quite well-written.


This was how I got up the Amazon with the The Forsyte Saga.
This is how to catch crocodiles in your bare hands and where floating islands play a part.

Stamboul Train

25 February, 2018

Stamboul TrainStamboul Train by Graham Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like Greene, I liked that the book was entertaining, social commentary and political all at the same time, a hallmark of Greene novels. What I didn’t like and what really upset me, is the marking out of someone as Jewish. Rant follows! If you are not Christian, not White or not able-bodied you might well identify with it.

I have no idea if anyone else in the story, in many, many stories, newspaper articles, tv reportage, online news sites, are Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist or White. But Jews, Jews have to be identified. Especially if they are in finance, although in Greene’s story, he wasn’t. Bankers and other financiers who are not Jewish are not identified by their religion, only Jews. Are there more Jews in banking than any other industry? No. In London there is a joke that on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, you can’t catch a taxi. Who would think of mentioning that a taxi driver was Jewish?

It isn’t necessarily anti-Semitism in any shape of form, but something of the Nazi doctrine remains (yes, I know it dates back to Roman times but this is the 21stC and we know about genetics now) that Jews, whether they are from Zimbabwe, Eastern Europe or Malaysia are all really one race and no one should forget that and all that the writer wants to imply (usually negative stuff).

That’s some baggage there for all of us born Jewish whatever religion or philosophy we actually espouse.

It is no longer considered polite or politically-correct to point out that some woman is actually a transgendered pre-op male. ie. A man. We have to rightfully consider not only their feelings but that (unless you are going to sleep with them) it really doesn’t matter anyway. But somehow being Jewish does.

I am a redhead with green eyes (see my profile pic). I have been married twice, once to a White Catholic and once to a Black, Anglican guy from the island. When people write books or newspaper articles, they don’t mention things like my first ex was White or a Catholic or my second was Anglican. My present partner is White and an atheist. They would probably mention that my second was Black and definitely that I was Jewish.

Why is Catholic not important? Why is Anglican not important? Why is atheist not important? Why is Black important? Why does my mixed race son who looks White have to have it pointed out in articles that he is Black, and Jewish, do people think he might pass as a White Christian which is somehow wrong, somehow fooling people if it wasn’t pointed out?


message 1: by Hanneke
HannekeYou are quite right to point that out, Petra. It is certainly very strange that it gets mentioned and not if you are of a different denomination.
Mia (Parentheses Enthusiast)I haven’t read this but definitely have noticed the phenomenon. It’s really prevalent with race in fiction, I’ve found—it’s always assumed that the protagonist in an English-speaking country is white, even if their skin colour is never mentioned, but people of colour are always identified by their “chocolate skin” or their “cinnamon skin” and all manner of other identifiers.
message 3: by Greta (last edited Feb 23, 2018 06:18PM)
GretaI’m glad someone finally draws attention to this. It bothers me too. If it’s not relevant, there’s no need to mention race, religion, skin color or whatever. I recently read a memoir written by an “Arab-American” man. The description and half of the reviews mentioned this, although it wasn’t in the least relevant, so I didn’t mention it in my review, and referred to him by his name, like we normally do. What also annoys me, is that women in fiction are mostly referred to by their looks, and to which guy they belong : “A clever detective and his beautiful assistant” ; “an average guy and his beautiful girlfriend”; “a charming man and his beautiful wife”. It makes me so angry sometimes that I want to (ab)use my power as a librarian and change the description 🙂

Petra XGreta wrote: “It makes me so angry sometimes that I want to (ab)use my power as a librarian and change the description 🙂 …”

I don’t see that as an abuse of power. Do it!

I do see Arab-American from the point of view that very large numbers of Americans, it seems to me, want the prefix as in African-American, Italian-American etc.

“The beautiful glamour model turned up for the meeting dressed in a form-fitting and revealing red Victoria Beckham bandage dress to give evidence against Harvey Weinstein”

Why not, “against fat, ugly, Harvey Weinstein wearing a navy Brooks Brothers suit that bulged at the seams”?

LOL it would be funny wouldn’t it if men were described like that.

message 5: by Ivonne
Ivonne RoviraIt’s amazing how many novels from the 1920s through the 1950s have gratuitous mentions of Jews. It’s jarring to 21st century readers. As you noted, they don’t randomly identify people as Catholics or other Christian denominations.
message 6: by Lyn

Lyn ElliottI agree that allocating labels to mark Jews, blacks, Muslims as different, at best, is intrinsically racist, no matter what the context or the outcome.

message 7: by Jonathan

JonathanEarly Agatha Christie books often have negative, stereotyped Jewish characters too. Come the late 30s they disappeared, hopefully due to some feelings of compassion and remorse. Books help us remember what people who were other than white Christians had to deal with – and read about. Still winds me up too though!

 message 8: by Ina
Ina Cawlthe old Jewish stereotype and most people who believe in it have never met or befriended Jewish person.
being Somali i get a glimpse of when your identity is stereotyped into something negative

Petra XJonathan wrote: “Early Agatha Christie books often have negative, stereotyped Jewish characters too. …”

Agatha Christie was a racist, homophobic, classist and very anti-Semitic. She was a horrible, horrible person. Her depictions of Jews were invariably nasty, she wrote about servants as “simple” and “vapid”. In 1939, despite being told that the word was offensive (in the Uk, even back then) she called a book, Ten Little Niggers. This was later changed to Ten Little Indians and eventually became, And Then There were None.

Petra XIna wrote: “being Somali i get a glimpse of when your identity is stereotyped into something negative”

Agatha Christie was vile about Muslims, Arabs and anyone not white too, Agatha Christie – ten racist moments.

Ina, if you came to the US you would get more than “a glimpse” of what it means to be Black and Muslim, it would be full in your face.

message 10: by Petra X (last edited Feb 24, 2018 05:07AM) rated it 4 stars
message 11: by Greta (last edited Feb 24, 2018 05:21AM)

GretaPetra X wrote: “Greta wrote: “It makes me so angry sometimes that I want to (ab)use my power as a librarian and change the description 🙂 …”

“The beautiful glamour model turned up for the meeting dressed in a form-fitting and revealing red Victoria Beckham bandage dress to give evidence against Harvey Weinstein”

Why not, “against fat, ugly, Harvey Weinstein wearing a navy Brooks Brothers suit that bulged at the seams”?

LOL it would be funny wouldn’t it if men were described like that.”

Laughing. You should be a librarian and change the book descriptions. You definitely have more imagination!

Greta wrote: “Laughing. You should be a librarian and change the book descriptions. You definitely have more imagination! …”

It substitutes for having a life!

message 13: by Ina

Ina CawlPetra X wrote: “Ina wrote: “being Somali i get a glimpse of when your identity is stereotyped into something negative”

Agatha Christie was vile about Muslims, Arabs and anyone not white too, Agatha Christie – ten…”
i really know that,this is not the best time to be black and Muslim in Western world as you would feel the racism in the airport before even before you even enter the country

message 14: by Greta

GretaPetra X wrote: “Greta wrote: “Laughing. You should be a librarian and change the book descriptions. You definitely have more imagination! …”

It substitutes for having a life!”

Ah, but you’re larger than life, Petra!

Petra XGreta wrote: “Ah, but you’re larger than life, Petra! …”

On a diet!


The Metamorphosis, or My Unfaithful Cockroach of a Husband (ex)

2 February, 2018

The MetamorphosisThe Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A paraphrase. When my ex-husband went out one evening from unsettling dreams of how faraway his wife was, he went out drinking and whoring. Next morning he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. A cockroach. Much he knew it though. None of his friends recognised it, in fact they preferred the cockroach to the person he had been and he had a great time. When it was time for him to come home, armour-plated as he was he crushed his wife underfoot (well fists and kicks, but same thing).

Unlike Kafka’s poor cockroach whom no one could come to terms with and is destroyed by their ultimate hatred of creepy, crawly insects that roam the house, my ex was embraced by all and became the most popular party person. Although at one stage I did have to fight off a woman who was swinging her handbag at me and tell a Spanish prostitute that my husband’s unwanted attentions were no business of mine.

The moral of the story is that there is more than one type of human cockroach and Kafka only wrote about one. It’s all in the shell, if you are ugly, big, brown and with six legs you are hated. But handsome, big brown and with only two, you are adored.

Read this book back in 1999 and loved it. Social isolation for visible or invisible characterists reverberated with me, as did the cold gang mentality that rules once each has identified itself as a sympathetic member.

5 star book
2 star ex husband (I did get my son so he gets a star for that).

The Dictionary of Cliches

22 July, 2017

The Dictionary of ClichesThe Dictionary of Cliches by James T. Rogers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My life at times has been like a soap opera. This review, you might call news of a kidnapping with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

This is an entertaining sort of book for pulling out at odd moments or when you need a topic to talk about, or for me when I need reminding about lurrrve, kidnapping, people who forge Chippendale chairs and that I once had a life.

I was sitting around the swimming pool in a marina, not looking glamorous in a bikini and owl-eye shades, but wearing beat-up shorts and flip-flops, sailor’s clothes, when I noticed this man looking at me. Not my type, not really, so I didn’t respond. He got up to get a drink and when he came back he took the lounger next to mine, smiled and opened his book. This book. A few minutes later he said, “I could say do you come here often, but that would be a cliche,” and on we went from there.

Grahame was a very nice man, a Canadian, he owned and captained a big dive boat trimaran that had a crew of six and chartered throughout the Caribbean. We went out for drinks a few times but nothing much else because I was mad for another man, Richard, who was equally mad for me but his wife was rather an obstacle, even after she’d left before we were even together. So we were just mad for each other and often at each other, and having drinks and long, soulful talks.

I heard that Richard was sailing away soon; he wanted to sell the classic wooden yacht he’d restored with the same techniques he used for forging the antique furniture he sold for huge amounts of money, and in desperation I decided to kidnap him. I got a seafront villa on a deserted beach where the sea is so wild few people go. I stocked the fridge with champagne, grapes and chocolates and a joint in case that was his poison, and put in my bag his favourite brand of cigarettes. At the bar I induced him to come to the car and was just going to drive it off when he said, “I’m not going ANYWHERE with you” and got out of the car and went back to the marina bar. So did I. I was furious and humiliated. Revenge would come publicly and instantly.

I radioed Grahame on his boat to come and meet me in the bar and a couple of minutes later there we were, arms linked, going to my car, ‘something wrong with the handle that opens the bonnet’ I said and he got in. And I drove off.

It was a night filled with the most passionate, vengeful sex. I was so angry, he was so crazy. Everything I did was to spite Richard, but Grahame was off in his own head, complaining of extreme pain where others feel joy, telling me of the creepy thoughts of death he always had with sex.

Next morning I took him back to the marina in time for breakfast and Richard and I resumed our strange circling of each other. We always contrived to be in the same place day and night. Occasionally Grahame would persuade me to have a drink, but my interest, such as there was, had gone.

One day Grahame wasn’t there anymore and a friend came over to tell me that he had bought the trimaran and Grahame had gone home to Canada, voluntarily going to a mental home, but that he’d left me a book. This one. A dictionary of cliches.

(What happened after that with Richard involved voodoo and curses and more rubbish like that, but I never heard from Grahame again).

This story was full of cliches Do you believe any of it?


(It was all true and considerably toned down!)


The Perfect Storm

14 May, 2017

The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the SeaThe Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t see the film so I came fresh to the book. It had a lot of impact on me because I have been in a small boat, a 34′ catamaran in a 4 day storm out in the Atlantic before Brazil. It wasn’t a ‘perfect storm’ but it was still rough, with huge seas and a constant exhausting beating against the wind. It prevented us going into Fernando do Noronha, our next stop, we couldn set a course for the archipelago at all. So I could not just see but feel what a difficult position they were in.

I know quite a bit about sword-fishing. I’ve read Linda Greenlaw‘s books. An aside – there are very few countries and vessels in the world where a woman would have the opportunity to swordfish let alone be a captain. It is an extremely physical job, setting hooks and squid bait, on spooled longlines hat run for miles and rip your fingers. The hooks are so big they could rip right through a man’s palm if the spool should run on. Then there is the killing of the swordfish when hauled in, gutting and icing them. As well as directing the crew, a hard-drinking group of macho men, maintaining the boat, it’s structure, mechanics and electronics. The electronics, depth sounders, radar and the like are not just for navigation but crucial in working out where the fish are. This was Linda’s strength, this finding the schools of swordfish.

Not only was Greenlaw one of an infintessimally small number of women swordfishing, but she was the most successful captain of all time. Where the normal catch is 1 ton a day, for seven days straight she hauled in 5 tons each day. The money from the catch on a boat is 50% to the owner, then the expenses are taken off and a set formula applied to the rest where the captain takes the most and the newest deckhand the least. That month the deckhand took home $10,000.

How do I know about swordfishing? My ex-husband was Chief Fisheries Officer and used to supervise the boats that came to fish in our waters. Because the permits they bought were limited in what they could do and the by catch could not be sold, a local would always be on the boat with them, sometimes my ex. It was all quite fascinating.

Swordfish have a long, barbed extension to their jaw that is both a weapon of attack and used to slash prey fish to weaken them. When they are hauled on board alive, they are very brave and will attack to the last. They can kill a man, or almost as bad, a wound from the sword will almost always become infected and the boat might be very far in distance and time from home.

There are always by-catch pulled up with the swordfish. There are the tuna. If you’ve only seen one dead held aloft by a fisherman it’s as if you’d only ever seen a rose browned with frost and never in it’s full bloom. Sailing across the ocean, three Atlantic blue fin tuna, each about 15’ swam in front of the boat maintaining an exact distance for more than hour. They were gorgeous, a rainbow of shimmering colours like sunlight on oil, like just beneath the surface. But the tuna aren’t a problem, they are gutted and thrown on to the ice along with the swordfish – generally a perk of the fishermen, the boat owner doesn’t get a share of by-catch.

The problem is the live sharks pulled up. They are vicious and their carcass is dangerous. It alone will rip the skin from a man. It’s not smooth, it’s not even sandpaper-like, it’s actually covered in tiny teeth, denticles. Sharks have to be shot as they being pulled up. The fishermen sometimes take the teeth as mementos and to sell. The flesh has to be thrown overboard immediately before it spoils and stinks of ammonia, piss. If shark is bled within minutes of being caught, and then iced, it is delicious. It’s a firm, white fish with a mild flavour. Very nice deep fried in the Trinidadian style of bake and shark with chives, thyme, garlic and hot peppers.

The book was a blow-by-blow account of the storm and how it affected the crew, their family on shore, and the boat, Andrea Gale, Linda Greenlaw’s sister ship. Linda’s boat was the Hannah Boden, both owned by Alden Leeman. The boat foundered amidst terrible seas and all crew were lost and never found. It was a harrowing story, and because I knew the subject so well, I lived through it and felt it and it upset me a great deal. The author, Sebastian Junger, has that power to bring you into the story and involve you. I did enjoy it, but perhaps not in quite the way one usually uses the word “enjoy”.