A quote on love and probabilities

Because I woke up with the words “We send starships, we fall in love”, this morning, for no apparent reason other than, probably, my brain wanting to wake up to a beautiful sentence. Do you ever have lines stuck in your heads, like songs, and spend hours trying to remember where they are from?

At least that’s a step up from the usual unending mambo-jambo of repetitive songs that struggle to find the top rank on the most-annoying-song-stuck-in-head-list. The current top place is disputed between that which doesn’t even deserve to be called a song, and Old Macdonald had a farm. When I say I live in constant hell…

For a change, then, an amazing quote (from an amazing book, now that I remember where I’ve read it) Continue reading

Women and War, Women at War. War’s unwomanly face, by Svetlana Alexievich (#AW80Books: Belarus)

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For a few weeks now, I’ve been dipping in and out of this book. I doubt I would have been able to read it in one sitting. It is too  intense, but in any case I’ve enjoyed this feeling of having it almost constantly in the backdrop. It gave a distinct colour to the other books I read in parallel.
Svetlana Alexievich is a Belarusian writer and journalist, born in 1948 in the Ukrainian USSR. I was given a book of a decent portion of her works (edited after she received the Nobel for literature in 2015), by a friend who knows I’ve been raving about the only other book I had read by her so far,  “La fin de l’homme rouge ou le temps du désenchantement”, for which I think the English title was “Second-Hand” or something, which is a collection of testimonies by people after the end of the USSR, about their lives, about communism, about the changes in the regime, Gorbatchev, disillusions and censure.
I loved that book. It was the first time I encountered a book like that, as she has a very unique writing process, of collecting hundreds of testimonies on a recording tape, and then transcribing them into a clear narrative voice while trying to keep the originality of the voice of the person.
This book, then, published in the 1980s in Soviet Russia (which created a controversy) is the result of 7 years collecting testimonies, by women all across Russia, and the Ex-USSR, about their experiences of the war. And that is mostly the 2nd world war, and entirely women who were conscripted in the army, with a variety of occupations and grades, from the “simple soldiers”- as they describe themselves, doing laundry chores to the lieutenant leading a group of men into landmine zones.
As it is the collective voice of many women, it is in itself polyphonic and contradictory: between two testimonies, but also inside those. Some remember the glorified discourse about “war for the people, war for the land”, about how proud and eager they were to be part of the war, and couldn’t wait to be sent to the front. Other- but also sometimes the same women – remember the violence. The cold. The unending chores. And mostly, how inhuman, how impossible it is to kill another human being.
There is violence, conflicts, incredibly sad stories of heroes of war returning to their homes and not being recognized as such, because they are women. There are funny anecdotes about the lives at the front, with the daily routine going on in spite of everything.
It all builds a portrait of War, as an entity but also as the sum of so many contradictions.
And there is also the question of memory and testimonies, as she also relates her struggles in finding the truth, interviewing people 30 years or more after the conflict: she says there are often tree people in the room: herself, the person she interviews and the person that person was, during the events. And a lot of those tales change, some of the women call her back to retract something, to change their view. It all shows how fragile and polyphonic Collective memory is, and how important it is to record all of these voices. In the end, it states this last duality: War, as an entity, is bigger than Man, but it is made by Man, and Man, or Woman, is often bigger than War. These testimonies are a recording of that, of women being bigger, greater, than the war they were in.
I am trying to find a “read it if you…” ending to this, but it is too universal for that. Sure, I could say, read it if you like historical testimonies about the second world war. But it would be better to say: read it if you are human.

The Fraud Police (and other ramblings about self-doubt)

(I realize that is not the most enticing title there is. I don’t have a better one just now, and, as this is about honesty, I can’t really make up a title with no connection to the article:)
Every now and then, as a doctor but I suspect in any other profession, I have moments of “what am I doing here, who the heck gave me permission to do this, why am I in charge?”. I think about it from time to time, but, as I was listening to Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking (read it!) yesterday while drawing fern motives on my crutches (random occupation number…. I’ve stopped counting), she happened to mention the exact feeling. She calls it “the fraud police”, the fear that someone might come and call you on your bullshit: how are you qualified to be in this role, to do that or say this? Who gave you the authority?
I constantly go through this. And not necessarily with the -minority – of patients who are angry, for various reasons, about the health system you happen to be working with, or angry about something completely unrelated, or just belligerent, but as a result challenge every decision you make, contradict the advices, etc… Those are fine, and useful: you are reminded you must absolutely stick to evidence, and, usually, you try to go and find why they have lost trust in you or what you represent. They are a sort of welcome detergent, if you like.
The more troubling ones  – maybe not at first glance – are those who come to you in search of absolute certainties. Whatever the question, they don’t want a balanced answer, they don’t want an “I don’t know”, they will trust whatever you say but you have to have an answer.
And, so many times, over and over. you don’t really have it. Whether the question doesn’t have too much consequence, like, “what is the cause of this cough?” (that is, once you’ve eliminated the possible serious causes, often you just know it’s nothing serious, which is not really the greatest possible answer), or “but when am I going to die?” – and again, most of the times, there is no certainty.

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Swimming, Staying grounded, Flying. Book Review: The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan

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A few months ago I read Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel, which is about a travelling Theatre company in a post-apocalyptic world. On Goodreads, on the “if you liked this book you might like…” The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan, was recommended.

It is about a travelling circus in a post-apocalyptic world. See a trend emerging somewhere? I’m not an absolute fan of post-apocalyptic / dystopian novels, but I love a good one now and then. Which is basically saying I am a fan of good books, whatever the genre. Which is basically saying very little indeed.
In any case, I picked this one up because I am in the process of reading ” War’s Unwomanly Face” by Svetlana Alexievich, a collection of testimonies by women who fought mainly during the 2nd world war (but also in other wars where the Soviet Union was involved), which is an earth-shattering book about War, Women, collective versus individual memory, and many other things, but, as you might suppose, not a very light-hearted one.
So I was a bit depressed and started reading this one for a change of scenery. And realized it might very well fit under the #AW80Books travel itinerary, because it is  a book where the characters are almost constantly travelling – by boat – from an Island to the next.
And if you want a scenery that is drastically different from – well, anything else, really – I would recommend the Gracekeepers.
This is set in a world where see levels have risen so much there are only a few dispersed Islands in a vast Ocean. But it is absolutely not centred around “post-apocalyptic survival”. The remaining people are either living on land and afraid of water, or living on boats and despised by the former.
North, a young woman, is a bear girl: she lives on one of those boats, a Travelling Circus company, where she performs every night  with her trained bear. We follow her and the rest of her company from Island to Island, as they struggle to make enough money to eat, and with tensions rising amongst them – living in an enclosed space on the sea – and with the people on land.
On one of those small Islands there is a Gracekeeper, who performs ceremonies for the dead. North and the Gracekeepers’ path are linked and converge progressively, as tension raises.
This is a book built like an upcoming storm – which is also an event in the book, with a peaceful, poetic surface  and a growing tension underneath. The universe created is fascinating: the acrobats and performers, this idea of multiple islands remaining and the drowned cities you can sometimes see underneath the surface.
It suggests, rather than fully develops, many themes: gender identity and androgyny, death and grief, love, and otherness (as all the main characters are cast-out of the traditional remaining society, but it also explores the concept of the historical “circus freak”).
In some aspects it is frustrating that all of those things are not fully developed, you want to know more, you feel some of the stories are left unfinished. But I suppose it is like the sea it depicts: just a surface, and it is up to you to build the drowned cities underneath.
A lovely book, then, with enough poetic weirdness for me to enjoy, to read if you like strangely beautiful stories. It made me travel a lot, and it was a nice watery escapade!

Classics Book Tag

Feeling classical today, and so I thought, why not a classics book tag?
Originally  from it’s a book world
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Julien Sorel in great torments about something

1. An overhyped classic you really didn’t like:
I have to come clean, here, I honestly struggle with Dickens, so I would probably go for Great Expectations. Maybe I was lacking concentration at the time, but it felt so tedious…will have to give him another try, someday, because I’m sure I’m missing something.

Oh, and Stendhal ‘s “le rouge et le noir” (The Red and the Black). Read it at school but not for a class, out of spite because I had a lunatic french teacher that wasn’t interested in reading classics “because he couldn’t seriously be expected to read the same books every year” (so instead he made us read uninteresting, long forgotten authors, and spent most of the lesson trying to convince -mainly- himself that they actually had some interesting themes). So I read alone what we were supposed to read (often in that very class, because that’s Nerd Resistance for you!) But I could have skipped Stendhal, honestly.

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A poem for Sunday (2)

It’s all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

Emily Dickinson, It’s all I have to bring today (26)

From The Complete Poems

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Brain-deficient-flamingo A.k.a: Bicycle painting olympics on crutches

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Number 173 on the list of “things I can do while stuck with crutches” (probably between “172: learn how to use said crutches as a door-opener / light-switch-turner /anything that cultivates a Dr House vibe” and “174: moaaaan”), is (re)paint my bicycle.
Because why not?
I have this amazing bicycle. Did I not yet rant about it, it’s amazing, I tell you (I’m not sure I stressed that enough: it’s sheer amazingness!!).
Anyway.
I had a very old bicycle for about 10 years (well, it was more-or-less new at the beginning), that survived so long mostly because I had painted it in every single color of the rainbow, with a poem from Paul Eluard written on it, then added some Tibetan prayer flags and a ridiculous horn. Because otherwise, bicycles get stolen at an amazing speed, around here.
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Anatole, in its youth (and in light-weight- form, that is minus the horn and the Tibetan prayer flags, because we were going on a tour of the Alps)

So it survived and reached a natural death – an unlikely event for a bicycle, as previously said – about 2 years ago, but since I’m a stubborn ecologist-freak, and mostly too lazy to buy a new one, I kept repairing it even if it was falling apart faster than you can say inner tube.
In December, I gave in, said goodbye to Anatole (yes, I do name my bicycles, it’s a special kind of relationship when you’ve been risking certain death in the Geneva traffic for so long together), and bought a new one.
And I really felt like Harry Potter at his first broom lecture, now I know what it must feel like to fly. And frankly any less-ancient bicycle might have felt amazing compared to the faithful but heavy and cranky Anatole, but That (it doesn’t have an name yet, any suggestions?) is another species altogether.
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It’s apparently called a Focus Fitness/arriba. I think it deserves a better name

And I really shouldn’t keep going on and on about that, because it reminds me I can’t use it right now (reason number 154 I’m slightly annoyed with my left knee).
So, instead of using it, I started painting it, because first, a boring red-and-black bicycle doesn’t really suit me (I’ll agree, it is stylishly boring, but still), and because it’s the best kind of anti-theft device you could find.

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Drowning in good intensions: The readers of Broken Wheels Recommend, by Katarina Bivald, book review

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French translation by Carine Bruy. The french title is something like “the library of battered hearts”, which doesn’t have much to do with the original title – and I gathered that from my complete fluency in Swedish, of course!

Sara, a young Swedish librarian, recently out of a job, decides to travel to Broken Wheel, Illinois, to go and meet her epistolary friend Amy Harris, a charming old woman she has been corresponding with about books for a while, but when she arrives in this almost- abandoned town in the middle of the fields of Mid-West, she learns that Amy has just passed away.
Disoriented and without a plan, she decides to stay in Broken Wheel, where she meets the charming community that struggles to keep the town alive, and opens a library with Amy’s books. When her VISA expires, the community, charmed by the new spirit she has brought into the town, devise of a way to get her to stay.

I’ll preface this, as I feel it is important, that I don’t mind happy, feel-good books. I sometimes need them. I love books about libraries, books about books, and this one, with all his bookish references did not disappoint me in that sense (though some of Sara’s recommendations are frankly not believable: Bridget Jones as a must read for a 50 year-old  ex-alcoholic taciturn male?come on, that is stretching it a bit). But I was wondering throughout the book if it wouldn’t have been too much to ask for a bit of complexity in the characters, just to make them, once again, believable.

There are all the stereotypes of the small town folks with the added twist of it being the “town of absolute tolerance even if we have our “colorful characters” (i.e. supposed intolerant assholes)”: an old religious spinster, full of self-righteousness, a token gay couple, a”matter-of-fact-masculine-bar-woman”, a token black guy, the resident Mr Darcy of course, and despite all their differences they all, miraculously, find love and acceptance and a new meaning in their lives just because a timid and quite frankly grumpy Swedish book worm, who introduces herself by saying “books are better than people”, comes around.

There is one passage that comes to mind to give you an example of unbelievable interactions between them: the “religious-old-maid” comes to the library to complain that Sara has put an erotic gay shelf, which she considers as pornography, and Sara tells her, in not more than a few sentences, that she considers judging books and people before reading them as “unchristian” and “anti-American”, which apparently floors the old maid, who says “she is going to think about”, and borrows one of those books, without even getting a bit aggravated at being insulted that way. She then goes on to find perfect love with a bisexual young man that happened to passed by, and so from this small interaction all of her principles. that had been so certain for years before, just disappear.

The book aims – and openly references – at the ambiance of “the Guernsey potato-peel literary society ” (I never remember its actual title, but you know what I mean), and if it is indeed full of well-meaning, heart warming characters, it doesn’t have its humour, it is a lot flatter.

And I know it is probably charming if you’re willing to overlook everything I just said and suspend your disbelief for a while. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else than a feel-good book, probably, but I’ll bet you can have books that have happy, heart-warming endings and an interesting story and complex characters. I know some, actually.

So read this if you want a cute tale of the power of books to unite people and resuscitate small towns, and don’t care too much about plot, or characters. (I’m not very good at advertising for it, I’m aware of it, I am trying though:) It is not that bad.(yep, that’s as good as I can get)

I had chosen it to be the “Swedish stop” of the #AW80books travel, but it is really not about Sweden, so maybe I’ll say it counts as Idaho instead and might give another try to Sweden. Have never read any Läckberg, for example, would you recommend it?

Brave strange brain: Mr B.

Mr B comes to the consultation with this glazed look of barely being there, as if there is a thick glass sheltering him from reality. And that is probably what he hopes for, because his reality is not a pleasing one.
Mr B has the monotone, almost robotic tone you often recognize in people suffering from the same affections, the great and frightening potpourri we call psychotic disorders. He says a few words, but has learned not to say more than that: people don’t believe him.
Mr B has come from Russia many years ago, but it is impossible to know what he has lived there, his past is a shut door – maybe even for himself.
Mr B suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

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