Trivandrum

22/12/12 17:00

I’m relieved to have a normal sized breakfast at Graceful Homestay. We’ve eaten so much over the past few few days.

Started the morning at the Zoo: it’s the oldest in India and set in lovely leafy woodland. The highlight was a black bear, in a decent sized enclosure. The lowlite was a tiny marmoset all alone in a small wooden-backed cage with a few sticks. I haven’t been to a zoo since I was a pre-teen, and won’t be rushing back. We wandered around for a couple of hours, saying hello to lots of children as we went (under 15s have free access on Saturdays).

Headed over to the Mascot Hotel, in search of a light lunch. The hotel was nice enough, but with incredibly slow and indifferent service in the coffee shop. The waitress waved back when I tried to attract her over to take our order. Masala cheese on toast and a lovely plate of fresh fruit (two types of banana) sorted us out, eventually. But we did get a good rest.

Next a wander down to Connemara Market, which was small and had no hawking which was very pleasant and we were able to wander in peace. I tried on a few shirts, and found even the XL were too small around my tummy and hips—so, pride dented, we walked quickly on.

I had another go shirt shopping in a trendy ‘Future for Men’ store in the basement of a shopping centre. These were XL again but this time not as waspishly waisted, so I bought one and even enjoyed the haggling with the young guy at the counter. The brand is “So Me”! I paid ₹650 and it started out at ₹900: so I wasn’t too awful at the haggling.

Found an Indian Coffee House shop on MG Road, although it was very well hidden in the basement garage of a shopping centre. This is a workers cooperative society where the waiters wear fancy uniforms, I guess dating back to the start 1900’s. The ‘set coffee’ was coffee in a pot with warm milk, and they had no biscuits.

Spent the rest of the afternoon on our comfortable balcony at Graceful Homestay, and finished Gulliver’s Travels, which I enjoyed more than I thought I would. I particularly enjoyed the ‘flying saucer’ island in the third if his travels.

Dinner in the evening was a 10 min walk to a local hotel, with a buffer meal at ₹275. No licence sadly, so no beer, but they did have fantastic pickles: very spicy beetroot, fresh lime, mango, pineapple, ginger and more… the waiter was very sweet and explained to me that that it was a buffet so us have to serve myself. I don’t like Kerelan-style soup: white and pasty with only a few bits of veg in.

Met a nice Indian family from Bangalore staying for a few days.

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Crystal Boys by 白先勇

Just finished reading 孽子 for the Bristol Book Group. It’s a well translated/written story about young gay guys in Taiwan and how they are setting out in the their lives as rent boys centred on a local park. The book cover about six months of time and the characters develop a lot of that time. The story is simple: search for love, family, belonging. The writing is lovely in parts: the biographic note for the author describes it as ‘limpid’ which is a good description:

Off in a corner of the sky a full moon hung above the coconut trees, the deep red colour of a chunk of foetid, steamy raw meat. Not a breath of wind anywhere. The trees stood deathly still in the darkness. The air was thick, hot, clammy like a gelatinous mass. [Page 19]

Chief Yang  was dressed to kill in a blue-striped seersucker sportcoat bulging here and there like a dumpling made of gelatinous rice. [page 90]

At three o’clock in the afternoon, the heat turned Taipei into a mangy dog on its last legs, its panting tongue nearly touching the ground as it gasped for breath.  [Page 110]

When I’d gone to see her on the on the day of the Ghost Festival she’d clutched my hand and begged me to go to a temple and burn a joss stick for her, asking the Buddha to let her transcend death and forgive her for a lifetime of sins. Her eyes, which had become  black holes in her face, were filled with fear and trepidation. Mother had probably been afraid of something all her life for her eyes to radiate such fear, like a startled deer deparately running away, always on the move. She’d gone with one man after another, drifting all her adult life, without ever finding the haven she was seeking, ending her days as a piece of human flotsam in a rickety bed, wrapped in a tattered quilt and surrounded by the smells of sweat and medicine, her body wasted by disease. She must have been unbelievable lonely and desparate in her final hours. But now her broken body had been turned to ashes and was resting in a crude urn just outside the hall.Was it possoible that those ashes still contained the sins of her days on earth? [Page 175]

There were section where I was clearly missing cultural references:

“Jade, that was a stroke of luck, your running into the Dragon King of the Sean in the Crystal Palace. You’ll probably turn into an immortal pretty soon.” [Page 226]

Suddenly he fell to his knees at the foot of the grave. He bent over until his shoulders heaved violently as the wails grew louder and more hysterical. The sound of his crying, increasing in volume and mournfulness, barely seemed human. He was a wounded animal, his agonising death cry shattering the night calm as it rose to heaven from a deep, dark cave. The bright red setting sun was sinking behind the hill, bathing Wang Kuilong in its blood red waves. His agonising cries were swept down by the bloody waves into the valley below, where they surged back and forth. The rest of us, following the chief’s lead, fell to our knees on the ground, wisps of white, washed by the blood-red rays of the setting sun. [They were dressed in white mourning clothes, Page 307]

The book is full of compassion and gentle love, from a whole host of characters. Crystal Boys are Gay Boys, translated as ‘Sinful Sons‘. The cover below is really badly suited to the novel as a whole, giving an image of cheap ’80’s porn!

Recollections of Oscar Wilde

I enjoyed this lovely anniversary present from Michael – Charles Ricketts recollections of Oscar Wilde, published after Ricketts’ death. I particularly  enjoyed the personal observations and memories from Rickett’s, but also the opportunity to read more about him: he’s also an interesting character, as this active blog testifies.

Charles Ricketts on Wikipedia

Mary Ann in Autumn

An enjoyable trip down memory (Barabary) Lane from Armistead Maupin. All the old characters from the earlier Tales of the City are still there, somewhat jarringly brought into the new millennium, with Facebook, iPhones and what not. They have aged of course, which is done in a  sweet way.

The plot is a little contrived at the end, but good fun and a good read.

Room

Christine lent me Room by Emma Donoghue, after we had both read The Lovely Bones. Room has a similar feel with a (younger) child narrator, but who grows up for five years in a single room with his mother, who was abducted as a teenager and kept hidden. I found the plot far more interesting after they were freed from the room, but the careful detail of how they lived/survived in the room in the first part of the book is important for the success of the second part.  The end of the book was a complete surprise for me and I found myself suddenly in tears. I wasn’t expecting that!

I enjoyed this as a page turner: after reading this and The Lovely Bones I need to tackle something a bit more challenging (thinking Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelaise).

Of Mutability

Michael bought me a collection of Jo Shapcott’s first three poetry collections, Of Mutability. I’m browsing through it now—it’s fantastic. Great titles to her poems, she’s visual, off the wall and surprising. I’ve enjoyed:

Somewhat Unravelling
Tea Death
I Go Inside the Tree
Myself Photographed
Uncertainty is Not a Good Dog
Piss Flower

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The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury tales

Geoffrey Chaucer; Oxford University Press 2008

I really enjoyed this modern verse translation, by Peter Levi, of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It’s taken a while to read my way through, I started the book in January, but well worth the effort. Levi’s verse is excellent and colourful, Some fun quotes (just realised they are all rather focussed on getting old…)

The Reeve’s Prologue

There’s life in the old dog yet; It’s long ago
Since first my tap of life began to flow;
For surely it was Death, when I was born,
That drew the tap of life and let it run,
And it’s been flowing ever since, so fast
There’s little left in the neat empty cask,
A few drops only, on the barrel-rim.

The Reeve’s Tale

And, as her pedigree was a bit smirched,
She stank with pride, like water in a ditch;
Was full of supercilious disdain
Because—or so it seemed to her—what with
Her family and her convent education,
A lady ought to keep herself aloof.

Introduction to the Sergeant-at-Law’s Tale

I tell you, sirs, that Time wastes night and day
And steals from us in secret while we are sleeping,
And through our carlessness when we are waking,
Just like a stream that never turns again,
Descending from the mountain to the plain.
Seneca and many a philosopher
Laments for time lost more than treasure;
For, as he says, lost wealth’s reparable,
But time, once lost, is irrecoverable.
It won’t come back, any more than Molly
Gets back the maidenhead lost by folly;
And so let’s not get mouldy doing nothing.

The Prologue of the Wife of Bath’s Tale

But age, alas, that cankers everything,
Has stripped me of my beauty and spirit.
Let it go then! Goodbye, and devil take it!
The flour’s all gone; there is no more to say.
Now I must sell the bran as best I may;
But all the same I mean to have my fun.
And now I’ll tell you about my fourth husband.

The Pardoner’s Tale

O paunch! O belly! O you stinking bag!
Filled full of dung and rotten corruption,
Making a filthy noise at either end,
What an enormous labour and expense
To keep you going! These cooks, how they pound
And strain and grind, and transform and transmute
One thing to another, to placate
Your greedy, gluttonous lustful appetite!

The Warren Cup

Michael got me this booklet for Valentine’s day. It’s a small study on the beautiful roman goblet that was bought by Ned Warren in 1911. Ned Warren was a major benefactor of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and an important collector of antiquities. After his death, the cup couldn’t be sold anywhere for years because of the scenes of gay sex, and the British Museum only finally purchased it in 1999 (after passing on it at least once) for £1.8 Million. The scenes aren’t unique, and these are are other glass and pottery cups with very similar designs. Given the subject matter and the it’s age (5-15 AD) the cup has done well to survive being melted down for scrap. The figures on the cup are greek, possibly designed to be more exotic for the romans that would have used it. The Warren Cup on Wikipedia.

As I write, Michael’s taking his Mum to the British Museum  to see the Book of the Dead exhibition.