The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas. A kid is out of control at a friendly barbecue … there are several other kids and more adults in attendance. When one kid, Hugo, age 4 (and still being breastfed), threatens to hit another kid, the father (Harry) of the kid about to be hit (Harry is a known hothead with at least one past wife-beating incident, but not on record), intercedes … and then the 4-year-old kicks him in the shins, which leads to The Slap … and thus the differing perspectives form and align. The kid’s parents call the cops, and sides are drawn; friends of the kid’s mother (Rosie) are mostly set firmly on her side. Friends and relatives of Harry feel obligated to take his side.
Interesting dynamics are set up by the author. For one, he tells the story from several different perspectives (each Chapter is the name of the character providing his or her perspective). The characters are further revealed as you learn of their various personalities, histories, politics, social backgrounds, ethnicity, etc. The book takes place in Australia (where the author resides). My cugina lives in Australia and she said her book club read and discussed the book. I already recommended it to a friend’s book club here. It’s an interesting story with interesting twists. Several different social issues are tackled by the author, from corporal punishment of children to a young man’s dealing with his sexuality (he’s gay), adultery, nationalism, race relations, economics, politics, and so on. A very interesting read I immediately passed on to the wife for her enjoyment, consideration and future Saturday morning discussions at Casa Stella.
Before Night Falls (x2) … I saw the wonderful movie starring Javier Bardem before reading the memoir of Cuban novelist, poet and playwright, Reinaldo Arenas. Both are wonderful, although I can emphatically state the memoir itself is much more revealing and educational. For one thing, something not covered in the movie, was the tendency for young men living in the peasant countryside of Cuba before and after Castro (at least until Castro’s anti-gay policies took hold) to have sex with animals. Although the thought of something so unnatural might make readers cringe, the reality is that Arenas explains it so well, and in such natural narrative, it becomes understandable and less cringe-worthy.
The author suffered miserably under both the Batista and Castro governments in Cuba; he suffered for being a poor peasant and then he suffered extra hard for being homosexual. By the time he’s gone through a hellish life as a poor peasant living in the country, a revolutionary accountant, an unenthused soldier (about to fight in the Bay of Pigs), and later a convict of his sexuality (he was jailed for being homosexual in Castro’s Cuba), he wants nothing more than to escape the island and pursue his writing life openly. French admirers have managed to sneak some of his works out of Cuba and had them published in France. The movie doesn’t do the memoir (or Arenas’s story justice) because it only deals with his ultimate hatred of the Castro regime. In his memoir, Arenas admits to being an optimistic member of the revolution in its initial years, but ultimately came to hate what it turned into under the paranoid Dictator, Fidel Castro.
A passage I took note of (and marked) was the following: Ours is a national history of betrayals, uprisings, desertions, conspiracies, riots, coups d’etat; all of them provoked by infinite ambition, abuse, despair, false pride, and envy. Even Christopher Columbus, on his third trip, after he had discovered all of America for Europe, was returned to Spain in chains. Two attitudes, two personalities, always seem to be in conflict throughout our history: on the one hand, the incurable rebels, lovers of freedom and therefore of creativity and experimentation; and on the other, the power-hungry opportunists and demagogues, and thus purveyors of dogma, crime, and basest of ambitions. These attitudes have recurred over time: General Tacón against Heredia, Martinez Campos against Jose Martí, Fidel Castro against Lezama Limo and Virgilio Piňera; always the same rhetoric, the same speeches, always the drums of militarism stifling the rhythm of poetry and life.
Arenas eventually died of AIDS in the United States back when it was still a medical mystery, but he was writing up until his end, and this memoir begins with his telling his story from the last stages of his illness.
I VERY HIGHLY (EXTREMELY HIGHLY?) RECOMMEND reading this very revealing memoir. I’ve already ordered one of Arenas’s novels as well, The Doorman.
Dan Savage Playboy Interview … a gay activist, author and political pundit I’ve seen on several shows (Bill Maher, MSNBC, etc.). Savage is an interesting guy with strong and thoughtful opinions. His interview in the recent issue of Playboy was particular timely coming on the heels of reading the Reinaldo Arenas memoir. Prompted by a few questions regarding both gay and heterosexual issues by the interviewer, Savage offered quite a few interesting answers that frankly made some sense (i.e., since young teenagers are going to engage in sex anyway, promoting (at least discussing) oral vs. vaginal and/or anal intercourse seemed more than reasonable. How does one sit-down with their kid and do that? Well, I think that’s the point Mr. Savage was making … maybe it’s time we figure it out.
Another salient point made in both the Arenas memoir and the Savage Playboy interview has to do with how each author defined gay men (broken into four types by Arenas), both defined “closet” gays the same. Savage went one further and nailed Marcus Bachmann (yes, that Bachmann, crazy Michelle’s husband, the original “Pray the Gay away” psychotic) to the wall for living in the closet and condemning other gays. It reminded me of this skit:
The Year in Mini-Review …
#1) One atheist I know (myself) loves much, if not most, of what Pope Francis espouses, and we can only hope he can implement most of what he says before he passes (and the old Vatican guard returns to power). We would like to see him expand the role of women in the church, to include allowing them priesthood. We’d also like to see marriage for both priests and nuns. Not that it would bring me back to the fold, but it would go a long way toward proving to me that religion(s) in general are at least a little bit less harmful than I currently believe. Adding the cause of women to Pope Francis’s crusade for the poor might be too much for the Vatican to chew on all at one time, but we like what this Pope is saying and trying to accomplish. Mostly we hope the old guard Vatican doesn’t have Pope Francis whacked, because we think his ability to teach what the historical Jesus is believed to have taught: mercy, compassion, charity, welfare and inclusiveness, is the right path to take, but also a path that the old guard Vatican fears will interrupt their stranglehold on church progress and power.
So, Pope Francis, you rock, my friend.
#2) The Principessa Ann Marie and I traveled to Tampa Bay, Florida, to watch a few (3) Lightning games. It was our first trip to Tampa and we thoroughly enjoyed our time walking around the area, skipping the diet for a few days, and taking in our first hockey games in several years. It was a wonderful trip, especially at game 2 for us (3 on the Bolts schedule) wherein we (Judy, Andy, Annie and myself) watched our guy Callahan score one of 7 goals vs. the Montreal Expos. We visited with Judy and Andy at their beautiful home somewhere else in Florida (about 40 minutes north of the arena) and I got to play with their two boxers (the younger of the dogs fell in love with me (what’s not to love?) and couldn’t stop kissing my ugly grille).
Cally jukes Suban …
Early Sunday afternoon the wife spotted Brian Boyle walking into the sports bar where we were watching the Bills on closed circuit television … Ann Marie asked for his autograph a few minutes later. Later the same night, while enjoying a cigar from Ybor City out in front of the hotel, I came close to smacking a very drunk Baltimore Ravens fan who insulted Buffalo Bills fans everywhere (actually it was fun just to size him up and warn his friend about how the little shit might get himself killed before the night was over). A day or so later we met with Tony and Mike Liberti for a day on the town (Ybar City, which I really liked (the city kid in me) … but the highlight (after seeing the Cally goal above – we were sitting upstairs directly behind the goal) was a surprise meeting (via Tony Liberti) with some of the Callahan crew (Donna (Mom), Mike (Pop) and Ryan’s brother, Mike … we look forward to returning to the Amalie Arena for future Bolts games and the wife is still considering a move south for retirement (although I hold onto hope that she’ll see the light before we retire and accept the wonder of a retirement in the cold, cold north) … I mean, come on, who needs Palm Trees when you can have Moose in your backyard?
#3) My beloved New York State Buffalo Bills proved me wrong this year on many fronts. Mario Williams proved he can actually be effective against the run as well as provide a solid pass rush. Marcel Darreus really stepped up his game at Defensive Tackle … and who would’ve thunk it about Head Coach, Doug Marrone? The guy has gravitas … I’m not sure what happens before next season, because we certainly need a #1 QB, and probably another backup, but at least the pieces are in place for a bright future. Kyle “Don” Orton’s sudden retirement was probably a very smart move for him and his family. Thanks to him for performing well above expectations.
#4) My Tampa Bay Lightning … I’m learning more and more about the game as I watch more and more, but still consider my comments rather rookie-ish … so here goes: We started like a house on fire and Bolted (see what I did there?) to a big lead in the Atlantic Division. Recently we hit a stumbling block and goal drought that seems to have ended this week as we won our third in a row, 3-2. I understand enough about the game to accept that puck luck works both ways, and I can live without the big scores, but what makes me crazy at times, even with understanding the ebb and flow of a game and/or a season, is when we seem to get outhustled. Nothing pisses me off more than feeling like we’re not giving it our all. Certain players always give their all, but others can’t possibly be doing so when we’re spending so much time in our end of the ice. I’m not talking about a brief minute or two (or three) minutes when another team is applying pressure, but I am talking about losing puck possession for what seems like an entire period at times. Even last week when we finally beat the Pittsburg Pigeons, we started with a hat trick by Tyler Johnson and vaulted to a 4-0 lead, only to surrender 3 goals (none of them our goalie’s fault) and we nearly lost the game (the last goal coming at 1:31 of the third period). My beef was with our play for most of the second period and nearly all of the third period, when I watched from my chair (and couch) as we were trapped in our end over and over again. We simply looked helpless and had that game gone on another minute or so, especially with their goalie pulled, I doubt we would’ve held on.
Then last night it was the opposite. The Maple Syrups took a quick 2-0 lead on two terrific plays, but then it was our hustle (for 3 consecutive periods) that did Toronto in. Cally was being Cally, playing 150% all over the place; diving to make passes, diving in front of pucks, making hits, making moves with the puck, scoring one goal and assisting on another. Stamkos, Johnson, Stralman, Hedman, Killorn and Boyle played the same way and the rest of the team seemed to fall right in step behind their leaders. We were wonderful to watch last night and one can only hope we’ve got the magic back as we hit the road for the end of the first half of the season and the start of the second half.
#5) My favorite picture of the year … it’s me and the Principessa Ann Marie (a.k.a, Nonno and Nonna) walking our granddaughter, Evelyn Amelia Stella, home after breakfast at a diner in Brooklyn.
For the Pope …