Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Detoxing Weekend

Hi everyone,

Does saying I had a detoxing weekend mean I've gone native?  Am I in danger of growing a man-bun and buying fair-trade coffee?  Possibly.  But not likely.  The weekend just gone wasn't planned as a detoxing exercise, but it did become an excellent spell of personal time.

I suppose the weekend started when I left the office.  I'd booked a barre yin class in Fitzroy.  This particular mode of exercise merges barre and yoga.  This made an interesting combination and I found it to be a smooth, chilled out way to end the week.  It'd probably be ideal in the recovery phase after a marathon or something of equal intensity.

Nope: I don't look even remotely like this (Image from here)

I came back to the sharehouse after the class and packed a bag.  I'd promised the old boy that I'd head down to the farm on the Peninsula and check that the steers had feed and water.  I stopped on the way to pick up the sort of simple fare I tend to like - wholemeal rolls, fish, tomatoes and a few tins of corn, chickpeas and beans.  I reached the farm a bit before midnight.

I was up a little before 0800 on Saturday.  It was my turn to make Telecross phone calls for Red Cross.  Perhaps I was still chilled out from the class the previous night: I found that the calls positively flowed by and I was in a very positive mood as I chattered away to the clients.  I hope that some of the positive mood flowed through to them too!  I found myself wading through a backlog of 100+ emails that had built up over the week and cleared them all by 1100, so that gave me a bit of a lift too.

After this I set out across the paddocks to check up on the cattle.  Nearly all the internal gates on the farm are open to give the 39 steers and one bull as much grazing area as possible.  Broadly, they're doing OK.  The grasses are grazed very low nearest the water trough and still pretty long the further from it you go.  They're in no danger of starving, but equally, they won't get fat.

Cattle Grazing near Shoreham, Australia (c) New Citeaux
In addition to being able to report good news to the old boy, it was a good 5 kilometre walk up hill and down dale.  The property is on the water and I liked the thought of the sea air flushing my lungs out.  It was about 1300 when I got back to the house and decided my next move.  About the only thing that was bugging me was that I'd had a couple of alerts from both SES and Red Cross of bad weather on Sunday.  I was having the attack of pre-bad-weather nerves that I seem to get more and more often and which I think I've blogged about before.  I could have gone straight back to town at that point (since I'd done the job I came there to do) and waited to be called out.  But then I thought... I've wanted this weekend for a while, and if I go back, the weather system will pass without incident...  It says something that it was so easy for me to rationalize benching myself.

Coastline near Flinders, Australia (c) New Citeaux
That decision made, I made my plan for the rest of the day: drive over to Rosebud, go for a run and a swim and then to Mass at Our Lady of Fatima.  I went to high school in Rosebud until I went to Melbourne.  I sometimes wonder what would have happened to me if I'd stayed at Rosebud Secondary College.  I have no idea if I'd have gone to university.  I doubt I'd have become a lawyer.  Possibly I'd still be on the Peninsula surrounded by sand and wine.  And maybe I'd have understood Camus much better.

Rosebud is a town spread along the northern side of the Peninsula on the shore of Port Philip Bay.  The country is dead flat and winds in and out of tea-tree and campgrounds along the beach.  It was perfect terrain for running and also doing some people-watching of the campers enjoying the last rag-ends of summer.  In the end I went a little over 10kms and a bit over an hour.  I didn't have much time between finishing my run and Mass starting, but I had 15 minutes to get into the bay to cool down and use seawater and sand to scrub the sweat and dust off.  What made it an adventure was that it was apparently perfect kiteboarding conditions: there were dozens of them and every so often I found myself dodging out of their way!

Kiteboarding at Rosebud (c) New Citeaux

Mass at Our Ladys was done refreshingly straight.  Afterwards I went and picked up a bottle of wine since I hadn't been able to buy any elsewhere.  After all the exercise I thoroughly enjoyed an accidentally-vegetarian dinner of corn, beans and chili.

Sunday brought another adventure: a two hour class at Silver Leaf Yoga School.  The school is in a purpose built building on a nursery property.  There were I suppose 15 attendees, and the class was geared to beginners and experienced practitioners.  I don't think you could call it a punishing or draining workout, but it was a good exercise in stretching and becoming aware of your body.

Silver Leaf Yoga School (Image from here)

I headed back to the Casa after the class in time to skype with Grace and Rachel.  It was getting late there, and I think they were tired, but they were still happy to see me.  Especially Rachel who seems to want to spend more time with me now.  I've very glad of this: Grace, bless her, can be a little over-dominating and it's wonderful to see Rachel more her own little person.

I got on the road for Melbourne about 1600.  I must have been pretty chilled out because I wasn't fazed by a traffic jam on the Mornington Peninsula Freeway or by coming back to wash clothes at the laundrette.  It was a very satisfying weekend and set me up well for the week ahead.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

[Book review] Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Panther: London, 1977)

Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Panther: London, 1977)

I think I finished reading The Snows of Kilimanjaro last night.  It's hard to be sure.  The version I have is a very battered mass-market paperback which I bought in Shepparton for a dollar a year ago.

Image result for The snows of Kilimanjaro panther books
Image from here

However, when I look at the Wikipedia entry for the book, I see that it's meant to include the following stories -
  • "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"
  • "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"
  • "A Day's Wait"
  • "The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio"
  • "Fathers and Sons"
  • "In Another Country"
  • "The Killers"
  • "A Way You'll Never Be"
  • "Fifty Grand"
  • "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"

None of these save the first appear in the book I have.  The collection itself is fairly oddly constructed.  Each story begins with a small italicised paragraph describing a scene unrelated to the story itself.  "Indian camp", describing a young man called Nick helping his doctor father is prefaced by a description of an army marching towards Mons in World War One. "The Battler", describing the same Nick's encounter with a violent hobo, is prefaced by a description of an execution.  I have no idea whether this combination of story and preface is Hemingway's or the editor's.  The same Nick appears in a little over half of the stories.  From time to time one has the impression that all of the stories will somehow be tied together (nope), or that many of them are jottings from a writer's notebook.

So much for the structural issues.  Beyond these, the stories are vintage Hemingway: each is written in that prose which I can only describe as "glassy": hard, close and unsparing.  The cruelty in "On the Quai at Smyrna" is described with the plainness of a person for whom pain and cruelty have are facts and not shocks.  The weariness and disappointment in "Out of Season" doesn't succumb to self pity.

As I read these short stories-cum-excerpts I found myself more and more impressed by how unsparing they were.  I think this quality is more needed in literature now than ever.  There is an argument that fiction has changed in our time.  Something like 80% of fiction readers are women.  The irreproachably progressive National Public Radio observes that -
Theories attempting to explain the "fiction gap" abound. Cognitive psychologists have found that women are more empathetic than men, and possess a greater emotional range—traits that make fiction more appealing to them.

Some experts see the genesis of the "fiction gap" in early childhood. At a young age, girls can sit still for much longer periods of time than boys, says Louann Brizendine, author of The Female Brain.

"Girls have an easier time with reading or written work, and it's not a stretch to extrapolate [that] to adult life," Brizendine says. Indeed, adult women talk more in social settings and use more words than men, she says.

Another theory focuses on "mirror neurons." Located behind the eyebrows, these neurons are activated both when we initiate actions and when we watch those same actions in others. Mirror neurons explain why we recoil when seeing others in pain, or salivate when we see other people eating a gourmet meal. Neuroscientists believe that mirror neurons hold the biological key to empathy.

The research is still in its early stages, but some studies have found that women have more sensitive mirror neurons than men. That might explain why women are drawn to works of fiction, which by definition require the reader to empathize with characters.

"Reading requires incredible patience, and the ability to 'feel into' the characters. That is something women are both more interested in and also better at than men," says Brizendine. 
This may explain why Jamie Fewery's question "how many books that are published these days speak to the modern male experience of life? How many address the issues around what it is to be a man today, and a young man in particular, with all the attendant crises that come with manhood?" is followed by a description of feelings heavy fluff

None of this would be worth talking about, if the ramifications were confined to the business models of writers and publishers.  But in a world which becomes more brutal in very real ways, I wonder whether saturating the culture with the tenderness of feelings is desirable.  That is, is the dispensation from rules that allows a film to celebrate I'm-ok-you're-ok-and-it-feels-good bestiality the same sort of dispensation that allows a common soldier to consider himself relieved from complying with the rules of war?  I suspect it may be.  Culture is influential (or infectious) that way.

So despite its flaws, is Snows of Kilimanjaro a book I recommend?  Yes.  Perhaps more than ever the world needs people to look at the world and see its surface with the same obstinate realism on display here.