November 24, 2010 § 1 Comment
There are only a few things about me that I’m actually proud of. One of them is my imagination.
My suspension of disbelief works wonders, thank you very much. Strangely though, I don’t recall ever having an imaginary friend and my mother says that with the amount of books I read, no need for talking with myself (I can always talk with the book).
Anyway, a vivid imagination is not a blessing all the time. For instance, you know how people say that to find out if you are in love with someone, you have to imagine them taking a shit? Well, every time someone says that, I picture every single guy I ever kissed sitting in the toilet. I can’t control, it just happens.
Thankfully, they are not that many and I’m not disgusted easily.
I must say, it doesn’t affect me that much. It could be because my group of friends back home consists mostly of guys or that my longest relationship was with a guy who had little regard for social rules such as holding a fart in front of me (intimacy, right?). Awkward story: when I was very very young, like 4 years old, I was in a supermarket with my Mom and I REALLY REALLY had to go to the bathroom. Safe to say, it doesn’t end pretty.
Another thing I do is that every time I meet a couple, I imagine them having sex. I can’t control it and I know it’s very much a pervert thing to do, but say that to my brain. I don’t mind if it’s a good looking couple, but sadly that’s hardly ever the case.
I just imagine it. It’s funny to see how it works, though. I don’t always imagine them having sex in bed. Sometimes the image that pops in my mind is a rather odd one. Like in a farm or in the kitchen, dressed up or very pure and safe.
I imagine it without any previous knowledge or conceptions of their sexual behaviours or attitudes. I always want to ask about it, but I think it could end up very badly and people usually take it in a weird way.
“So, Julia, these are my cousins, Ana and Ben.”
“Hi Ana. Hi Ben. So, do you guys like outdoors, hum? Doesn’t the sand bother you at all? I always feel like it would get into the worst places.”
I would probably be slapped by someone in there. Hopefully some people would take it jokingly but what if Ben has just slept with Ana’s flatmate and they are going through a crisis? Tough shit. What I’m trying to say is that maybe it’s better to not say anything.
For instance, the other day I was working in the pub. There was this old man, in his 60s or more. Glasses, wool waistcoat, barely any hair left. He was eating alone, because his son was stuck at work or something. (Excuses, excuses. No worries, we all eat alone at some point. No judgements.)
He was rather lovely and very excited about our selection of beers. Whenever I went to his table, he would try to start a conversation, but really there’s only so much I can talk about ales.
The guy decided to order a roast gammon. I ordered it, it came up, he ate it all. When I went to clear his plate, he tried to strike up another conversation. People love to start conversations when you are holding plates and glasses.
I hoping it wouldn’t be about ales again.
“This was lovely”, he said, pointing at the now empty plate.
Relief. Food. I can cover at least 15 seconds of conversation about it.
“Yes, yes. Quite lovely, isn’t it? I had it for lunch.” I replied, still holding on to the plate. It’s not heavy, don’t worry.
“YES! YES! Absolutely.” he said, “don’t tell this to my wife…”
I immediately thought he was going to say something along the lines of “I can’t eat gammon because of my diet”. I smiled and nodded while I waited for him to finish the sentence. He lowered his voice.
“…but it’s almost as good as…” OH SHIT. Is he going to say sex? Please don’t say sex. I don’t want to imagine you in your wool waistcoat having sex.
“almost as good as…” Hold the smile, Julia. Hold the smile. Please don’t say sex. Please don’t say sex. He doesn’t finish the bloody sentence. It’s too late, I’m picturing already. I don’t know his wife, but she looks about 40 in my head and they are having sex in the kitchen.
He smiles. I’m shaking with the weight of the plate. He doesn’t finish the sentence. He MUST be playing with my head!
“Don’t tell her, but it’s almost as good as…” WHO SAYS THAT THREE TIMES? “…at home.” He finished it! At home! Of course it was at home.
Oh, now I’m imagining them having sex all over the house! No. No. No. Say something. He’s waiting for a reply. I smile. Panic. I look both sides, is there anyone calling me? No. Help is not coming. I smile even wider. My face looks like of the Cheshire cat.
I realise he’s talking about his wife’s cooking. Ah, yes. Why would it be sex? I nod wisely.
“Ah, don’t worry! I won’t tell her.” I say, as if we were accomplices. I would wink, but I’m scared he might think I’m flirting with him.
I turn my body towards the bar. He smiles. I leave, but not before I imagine him and his wife engaged in a wild sex in the kitchen. She’s wearing an apron and preparing roast gammon.
November 20, 2010 § Leave a comment
My Mom didn’t raise me to be a good wife, or a great entrepreneur. She didn’t even raise me to be a good mother – although, that doesn’t mean she didn’t raise me to be a good person. All in all, my Mom raised me to be a traveller.
Since when I was little, she always encouraged my reading and bought me books and movies. She used to subscribe to National Geographic and she had a huge collection, all piled up in the shack outside the house – because there was no space inside.
I remember going inside that shack and bringing to my room boxes and boxes of National Geographics and spending hours reading it and sometimes only browsing at the pictures. I would learn about travellers that found the South Pole, about children in India, about secret villages in Africa and lost tribes in South America. I loved writing papers about it too, for school and even research things for the pleasure of it (I was always a weird nerdy child).
My family isn’t rich. There was a time when my dad had some money, but we pretty much spent it all building the house and we are now a middle class family. My grandparents are poor (or low-middle class if you want to be a bit more fair) and almost very few of my close uncles and aunts (and there are 8 on my dad’s side and 4 on my mom’s side) went to university. Some didn’t even finish high school. My dad actually never WENT to high school. My mom finished it years later on a night school.
So, saying that, it’s not surprising that not many people have actually travelled abroad. Well, because we are a bit more well off than the rest of the family, we can afford travelling in the summer. Although, because my dad has a great heart and can’t say no to people he loves (which is sort of the way it should be), he’s always lending money to brothers-in-law and sisters and stuff and they rarely pay back. Anyhow, we have our fair share of summer holidays in the beach.
I have one cousin, though. Actually, she’s my mom’s cousin, but details. Well, this cousin of mine, Rosa, she travelled. Aha. She did, a lot. She backpacked around Europe (she in fact taught me the concept of backpacking) and she studied in the US. She went to do a MBA there and was invited to study with a scholarship and all.
She did all that when she was about 20. Her family is a bit richer than mine, but I didn’t know it back then. She was my inspiration. My mom was always telling me about her travels and how she spoked to her about this and that. I saw her very few times in my life and she was about 10 years older than me and lived in a different state, therefore, I never asked many details about her life. I always learned it all from my mom.
Rosa was intelligent. Tall, skinny, tanned (she did live by the beach). She met a guy in the US (a Brazilian, as well, no less) and they got married. She moved there, to study and live with him. When that happened, I was about 14 years-old. I had my plans already of going to live abroad, mainly fed by my passion for Sherlock Holmes and England (more of that later). I had plans to go to high school in the US and get a scholarship and live there. I was the best student in my English class and was already teaching my classmates.
I remember exactly a day, it was a Sunday. We were all having lunch at my grandparents house. A lazy day, with a bit of sun. My aunts were all there, my mom’s sisters. We were talking about the latest family gossip. You know, the uncle that has financial problems, the cousin that has cancer, the nephew that went to jail. All those cheerful subjects. Then, my aunt asked my mom about Rosa and her marriage. My mom replied something, saying they were moving to the US very soon.
“I’m going to do that one day”, I said, lifting my eyes from the book I was reading.
“Do what?”, my aunt said.
“Get a scholarship from an American university and study there.”, I replied.
My mom smiled in satisfaction.
My aunt went on about the difficulties and my English classes, I answered all the questions very enthusiastically, as I always did when it came to that subject.
My grandpa suddenly looked at my mom and said, “if you don’t look after that one”, and pointed at me, “she’s going to become just like Rosa.” Now, let me tell you something about my grandpa. He’s a lovely man, very fond with his family, even if a bit morbid sometimes. However, he’s old (as all grandpas are when you are 14) and he’s a chauvinist. Maybe as a defence mechanism, since he had a wife and 5 daughters in the house, or maybe just because back when he grew up, women didn’t get much chance to be anything but housewives.
So, he said that to my mom. In a very disapproving tone, I must say. Not trying to harm me, just, you know, giving some of his wisdom in raising children. My mom looked up at him and gave him a half smile, looked at me and said, simply “that’s exactly how I’m raising her to be.” and just continued knitting the scarf in her hands.
See, even though my mom and I don’t have the warmest of relationships and she sometimes pisses me off, you can’t say she’s not something.
My mom is a force of nature. She said once that I have a “strong personality”, which according to her, means “you’re difficult to deal with”. I absolutely refuted such an accusation and got offended, since I’m very calm and never get into fights. She looked at me and I was actually angry and raising my voice. “See,” she said, “you are just proving my point. You are too strong-minded”. I replied that she was not one to say so, because she’s as well. To which she replied “Like mother, like daughter.”
November 16, 2010 § 1 Comment
As you may know, I work in a pub in London, in the city. Needless to say, the area itself attracts a lot of wealthy (and wankery) bankers. Despite the odd arrogant prick, it’s a pretty reasonable public and because the building is so old, it’s full of tourists.
Well, any person that has ever worked with customer service or in direct contact with public all the time knows that for every really nice customer you get 10 assholes. It’s sad, but true. In the pub, we named them “Sunday customers”. Tell you what: Sundays are weird days. Sundays attract the weirdest type of people to that place. I don’t know if it’s because it’s such a business area that if you are around that area on a weekend, you have to be odd. More and more lately, and specially during Christmas time, these “Sunday customers” appear during the week. They are those difficult customers (I’m not talking about asking for things, because it’s a restaurant, of course you need some things), those that seem to want to make your life difficult, specially when it’s busy. If I’m talking with another customer, don’t come shouting asking for another bottle of wine. Most waitresses/waiters are quite aware and are not as dumb as we look.
There are the Sunday regulars as well. They are different than the regular regular ones. The week regular ones are those business men from next door or down the road. They come, they drink, they go back to the office, they come back, they drink, they have dinner sometimes with clients. Usually they don’t know your name, but they are nice and I don’t know their names either. Unless my boss mentions it and introduces me, but most likely, I’ll forget your name. It just happens. I’ll forget your face after the first time I see you, unless you came back the next day (or you are really bloody gorgeous). In my case, I deal with usually more than 50 customers a day, 5 days a week. More on Fridays. It’s quite a lot of people to remember every single face. I’ll probably remember what you drank, though. That’s just easier. 2 double gin and tonics, a lager and any bitter you have. Deal. Come back and ask the same again, I’ll probably remember the order. Not your face, though.
We have this guy, who comes on weekends usually. He’s about 50 years old. Skinny, glasses. He has this absent smile, a bit spaced, you could say. I’ve seen him pay for a meal only once. People just pay for him. It’s hilarious. I thought that maybe he’s a professional con man, but who knows. He comes and sits down in the front, grabs a newspaper (usually Financial Times) and starts to chat with whoever is in the bar, asking for suggestions. He orders starter and main and ALWAYS asks for a 15min interval. Then, he starts to freak out over the napkins. He uses around 4 sometimes. Trying to protect his clothes and his body from any dirt from the food. He goes mad when the cutlery touches the table and shouts asking for more napkins. I fear telling him that the newspaper which his hands were touching minutes ago is probably way dirtier than the table.
So, he sits there and he always strikes up conversation with the table next to him. Always. People seem very annoyed at first. Or amused. He tells tales about his life, which I never had the time to actually listen to. But people start buying him wine, sometimes desserts and sometimes they just pay for the whole bill. The only time I saw him pay, was because the table next to him was one of the girls that works in the pub, so, she didn’t really had any interest in talking to him.
So, anyway this day he had to pay for the bill, he got up and said bye. He looked at my colleague and with this random and very absent smile, said , ‘I’ve lost my wife’ and walked away. I heard it and looked at her, completely baffled at that situation. Did I hear that right? And then the other customers in the bar looked at me, with puzzled faces probably similar to mine. It came to my mind Adrian Monk, from the TV show, who has OCD (which this guy clearly has) and lost his wife, going a bit (very) lost after it.
It makes me think how weird is it that these people are part of my life and I’m sort of part of theirs as well. When I leave, will they remember me? Will they ask where did I go? If I’m coming back? When I leave, will I think of them at all? Most customers will just come and go and I’ll probably not remember them after a couple of months, but some are pretty memorable.
There’s this American guy, who had a lamb pie in the first time he went there and everything I suggested, he loved it. He came back week after week with different people and he would introduce me to these people and say I was the best waitress ever and that was the only reason he actually went there (plus the pie is amazing). I haven’t seen him in a while, but he has brought his wife already and his mother-in-law. He introduces me and praises me to his friends. It’s actually quite interesting, because from several conversations we’ve had, he has this very accurate opinions about my personality. Sometimes, he even makes me realise things I never noticed before. He’s the sweetest guy and every time he goes to the pub, I sit down and talk to him for half an hour. It’s this kind of thing that compensates for all the shit that working with public does to you. Plus, the standing around for hours, the pain in my legs, the dry hands from working in the bar and the rude drunk customers who go WAY beyond the line.
Today we had a couple making out. It happens quite often, specially because it’s a very cosy pub, with candles and some tables which are more private. There was this couple once who was making out in one of those tables. The girl walked towards the toilet and you could see that her stockings were halfway through her leg on the right side. Honestly, people. I know that sometimes you are horny and when you are in the honeymoon phase of the relationship, you do want to spend the whole time making out, but really? REALLY? It’s a pub. There are people sitting next to you. Even if there wasn’t anyone, there’s still the staff. US. Hey, most time people forget about the waitress anyway, but really? After we are closed, everyone else is gone, the lights are on, the music is off, the chairs are up, we are sweeping the floor and you still don’t realise that it’s time to fucking leave? Get a room. We are not invisible and unaware and I definitely don’t want to see people making out in front of me while I’m doing my job. If I did, I would be working with prostitution and making much more money.
I don’t know where I’m going with this post. I just think it’s something curious to say.
November 13, 2010 § Leave a comment
O TEMPO E O VENTO – O CONTINENTE (TIME AND THE WIND – THE CONTINENT), by Erico Verissimo
To more international readers (if anyone ever reads this blog), this will be a great wtf. A bit of Brazilian literature for you. Actually, a bit is not enough, because it’s a bloody epic (think East of Eden 3 times). I’ve chosen to talk only about the first part, because I never really finished the whole series.
It’s a story about a family from South of Brazil, a state (which wasn’t back when the story is told) called Rio Grande do Sul. You see, people from the south are very very proud (I am) and they are considered by the rest of the country as fighters, stubborn, strong-headed people. We are and this book shows it as well.
It’s an epic that goes through several generations and wars, in a small town where they are settled.
The title is brilliant by itself. Time and wind to some extent are women and men, which with its differences are one of the book most debated themes. Women are time, because women wait. When man go to war, they stay and they wait. Men are forces of nature back then, they came and left, leaving pregnant wives, lovers and everything else to go fight for their cause. Men are cyclical, fickle; women are steady.
In any case, the female characters are a joy by itself. Strong and powerful, they lead and carry the problems closest to us, while the men fight in the war. The narrative is stunning and the use of flashbacks and a quite complicated at some points of the timeline turns it unquestionably into an amazing book.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, by Jane Austen
It’s easy and at the same time extremely difficult to write about Pride and Prejudice. I find it that most of the love I have for the book comes down to Mr Darcy and the perfect love story. My romantic ideal of chivalry and the fact I love the historical period in which is set.
Jane Austen books were one of the many literary reasons why I wanted to move to England (along with Sherlock Holmes, Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie). Lots of travels I did and things I went to see because of their relation to Jane Austen or Pride and Prejudice somehow.
More than anything, Elizabeth Bennet was one of the first heroines of “grown-up” books that was actually a smart-ass. Her wit and sarcasm won me over, specially her being the outcast in the family because of so much reading and so much different opinions from everyone else. That’s how I always was to my family.
It’s almost a soft erotic novel for romantic girls and many of them (as I once did) still dream of meeting Mr Darcy (who let’s be honest, is a bit of a prick). However, in the end, this book isn’t only a great love story, it’s a tale of redemption, maturity, selfishness and arrogance. It’s a story of learning how to be humble under certain circumstances, but fighting for what you want when you believe it’s right.
JANE EYRE, by Charlotte Bronte
I read Jane Eyre in 2 days, in every single moment I had free. I remember one day waking up before my boyfriend (at the time) and it was very early. I grabbed the book and started reading and reading until 2h later he woke up. He went to his computer and started playing World of Warcraft (which used to piss me off a lot). I didn’t care. I was so entangled in the book that I just wanted to know how was going to end. That’s unputdownable for you.
I had read Emily’s Wuthering Heights and hated it. I’ve read somewhere that readers are divided into 2 categories: those that like one or the other of the major works of the Bronte sisters. While Heights is about hate and evil characters, Jane Eyre is about love, about growing up and fighting what people want you to be.
I believe Jane is an amazing character that in many ways reminds me of Elizabeth Bennet. She’s fierce and in a time when women were not allowed to say what they think, she had no problems on exposing her opinions. Which, specially in the environment she grew up – where different from Elizabeth, it was not one of love – put her in very difficult positions.
The book mixes a bit of unknown and there are elements (like in Wuthering Heights) of a certain mysticism and paranormal. There are very dark and twisted bits in the book, which proves wrong many people that believe Jane Eyre is another romance written like Jane Austen books. It’s not, the end is actually the final proof of it.
Edward Rochester is an arrogant man full of prejudices (much like Mr Darcy). However, he has a very good reason to be so silent and quiet. He’s not a peaceful man and is indeed has a strong personality, which makes him a distinguishable and memorable character. He is a man imprisoned by his past and hasn’t much choice but living with it.
It’s also a book that when divides religion and kindness very well. While most people say that religion is there to create a boundary between good and evil and what’s right and wrong, Jane Eyre as a book and as a character shows it that it takes only a good heart to make the discernment.
Finally, Jane Eyre is a story about becoming independent and showing the world that you are only one and not a stereotype to be played with. Jane was one of the first strong, powerful and independent women I had chance to meet in literature, if you will.
ATONEMENT, by Ian McEwan
Sadly, I read the book only after seeing the film adaptation (which also features on my top 10 favourite films ever). Happily, the film is amazing already, but reading the book after added layers and layers that no film would be able to translate. Joe Wright is an amazing director and probably one of my favourites of this generation, but you can’t really blame him.
As the title says, Atonement is a story about mistakes and correcting them. Set during the II World War, in rural England mostly, it tells the tale of a girl who makes a terrible mistake that will affect forever the lives of other people. Briony Tallis is an amazing and believable character who much reminds me of, well, me in some ways. She’s a creative child, with vivid imagination and engaged into writing and setting her plays. In a different world with different circumstances she would have been a very likeable character. She isn’t.
Because of Briony’s naivety and to some extent, prejudice, two lives were ruined and several other badly affected. Briony has a terrible problem with separating reality and fantasy and it’s hard to see when she does it on purpose or not.
It’s a great metalinguistic work. I don’t want to ruin the end for those unfamiliar with it, but it does reiterate a relation and the power of literature and creativity when authors deal with the real world. The great structure of telling the story from 3 different point of views (Cecilia, Briony and Robbie) works incredibly and it’s a great narrative resource.
Besides the major theme being redemption and second chances (which is something recurrent in this list as you might have noticed), Atonement has the best sex scene I have ever read. (the film version is amazingly beautiful as well but there are thoughts that can’t be translated into it).
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee
I had seen this book in many many many lists of best books ever written, etc. I hadn’t come across to read until the beginning of this year. It jumped straight to the top of my list of favourite books.
Harper Lee makes me a bit sad for having never written anything else, but she did a fine work with To Kill a Mockingbird that maybe she would just ruin her career with some other novel (I don’t really believe that).
At first, the book made me feel like I was 11 again, and made me feel like watching Stand By Me and this other film that I don’t remember the name but it was one that I used to watch it all the time 10 years ago about a bunch of kids playing baseball and their weird neighbour with the crazy dog.
It evokes the deepest feelings of nostalgia and sadness. Not only sadness, though. I don’t know you, but I had a pretty happy childhood. I had several cousins that I played with all the time. I had a school that I loved. My parents were happy and loving. So, really, I was happy as a child as really I’ll probably never be and even if my childhood had been a bit worse, the world through a child’s eyes is always a bit more beautiful (as you can see in Angela’s Ashes). Naivety, you could say, but I like to believe is actually just pure kindness and belief that in the end, you have to have fun and be true to yourself.
Kids are not stupid. They’re sometimes wiser than grown ups. However, I’m still to find a child as wise as Atticus Finch, who is probably my favourite character of all times. Atticus is not always in the novel but in the end, he’s the protagonist. He’s the guy everyone reads it for.
Atticus is a lawyer and a true example of how parents should be. He’s wise, kind, honest. Most of all, he believes in what he does and he trusts that all people are equal, even if they have a different skin colour.
In the end, this book is about fearing the unknown. Not only with the case itself judging a black man over the rape of a white girl, but also Boo and his lock down inside the house. Just deal with whatever you’re scared of and maybe you will realise it was just your shadow.
LORD OF THE FLIES, by William Golding
What a disturbing book. It stayed with me for days and sometimes I was scared of reading it and learning what was going to happen. In opposition to To Kill a Mockingbird, this is pure child evilness. Would kids really act like that when alone in an island with nothing to survive with but their own knowledge?
It scares me that maybe they would. I see bullying and I see how cruel some children are. I do believe, that this would happen if they were all grown ups and I unquestionably think they would end up all killing themselves and that strength and cruelty would overcome intelligence and kindness in the end.
Would we act like that? All of us human beings? Would I do that, if I were in their position? Would my sister (who is 11 years old) act and kill to survive? I believe good is part of who you are. I believe we all have inside of us and I believe this book shows how some people have evil in them as well. But, not all is black and white. So, while I think several people would like to think it is, I think that evil people have goodness in them as well as good people have evil inside of them.
You might not have killed anyone, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t do something bad to another person just out of pure survival. We are selfish beings and we act out of sole fear of dying most of the time. The characters here might not be truly memorable, but it doesn’t matter because in the end, they are who we are. Their names, who they were before, that doesn’t really make a difference. It’s about their actions and their choices. Most people would do the same, wouldn’t they?
– The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
it doesn’t really require an introduction, enough to say that the films even though being pretty close, don’t capture the whole world that Tolkien created in his mind. I wish I had such a creativity and memory like he did. Friendship at its best.
– Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates.
I’ve read this after seeing the amazing movie directed by Sam Mendes. It’s a great, stunning, absolutely depressing book. I do not recommend it to people who just broke up with someone, but do recommend to incurable romantics because it will shatter a lot of what you think about marriage. It’s much like Mad Men in book.
– Persuasion, by Jane Austen.
The last book written by her and most definitely her best one. It’s down here and not up with my favourites simply because…I can’t really explain it. Probably because my character is much more like Elizabeth Bennet’s than Anne Elliot’s, who yes, redeems herself towards the end. It’s a book about second chances and a tale of time and doing things to please your family against growing up and realizing it’s your life and not theirs. It’s a true book and it has a lot of pondering and questioning more than any other of Austen’s novels.
– The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger.
I hated this book. I really did. Every time I heard someone praising it, I would roll my eyes and say it was overrated. I came around to reading it a second time, about 5 years after the first time. I changed my mind completely. I believe it’s a book that needs to be read at one point of life and if not, it won’t have the same effect. I read it for the first time when I was 15, the age when you’re supposed to be lost and questioning authority and acting much like Holden Caufield is in the book. Except, I wasn’t. The book didn’t affect me at all. However, after moving to another country, graduating in a film school with a degree good for nothing, I re-read it and finally understood what everyone was raving about. It’s a sensitive and honest portrayal of a generation (mine) lost in their own boredom.
– Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
Ok, so, it’s kind of a lie, because Watchmen is not a book, it’s a graphic novel. However, you will hardly find a book with so much depth, beauty, sadness, betrayal and existentialism as Alan Moore wrote and Dave Gibbons drew. A masterpiece of fine writing, questioning and history. It takes us to a world where Reagan was re-elected and the US won the Vietnam war, thanks mostly to super-heroes, now banned from existence. How can someone not want to read this? STILL NOT INTERESTED? I pity you. The characters are brilliant, from the personal favourite Rorscharch with his cruel and insane if idealistic view to Dr Manhattan calculated coldness and blunt honesty. It has an incredible plot twist and the consequences of it will make you not stop thinking about it for months. I promise.