Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Famous Venetian

"Venice makes you feel like you can dare anything." 

Veronica Franco has been known for centuries as the famous Venetian courtesan who shared intimacies with emperors, those who ruled Venice in the 16th century, whether it was due to their political power or money. However, in her book "Honorata Cortigiana" the Italian writer Rosa Ventrella, manages to go beyond the infamous person to expose a woman in love with poetry and aspiring to a higher lever of beauty, love and life. It somehow reminded me of the main character from the movie "Moulin Rouge", the courtesan Satin, played wonderfully by Nicole Kidman.

"She possessed a more wicked gift than money: she knew how to read in men's eyes unutterable desires. And she was willing to turn them into reality." 

Back to the book, we discover Veronica as a teenager, before her mother convinced her to follow in her footsteps and become a courtesan herself, then we see her struggle in an unsatisfying marriage with an old but rich man who is aware of her sexual needs that she is trying to fulfill by turning into the most desired courtesan of that time in Venice to finally giving everything up - fame, fortune and even freedom -to be together with the man that she loves.

"The pain of living was tearing her heart."

Veronica was truly a powerful woman and a visionary, beyond that flaws that some of us may see in her character. Her wish to spend her fortune on building a shelter for former courtesans is something to appreciate her for, together with the honesty that she shows in her final years. A wonderful book to read in order to discover a world long gone yet still vivid in the writer's imagination. And ours.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Music and Social Change

Music has always been a means of expressing oneself and the injustice that occurred all around, but not many musicians dared to express their revolt and take a stand in this regard. I guess speaking up was only for the bravest of them, whether they were called John Lennon, Bono or Madonna.
John Lennon fought for the rights of the common people, while Bono militated for helping the poor African countries and Madonna was one of the first people from the music industry to speak about gay rights and fighting prejudice. With such models, I believe it is quite hard for others to follow in their footsteps ...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Foreign Affairs

English has always been a passion for me, whether it was reading and exploring new words and their meaning or listening to my favorite artists performing their songs in English or laughing at my favorite sitcoms while wondering what on Earth that certain expression may mean.

I started learning English at school, when I was eleven, the old fashion way: reading, translating and then working on some grammar rules. No speaking or listening exercises until I finished high school, so I always felt the need to develop these skills more and I managed to do so while in college. However, only in high school did I realize I would really enjoy studying it further and discovering how multi-faceted it could be.

Now, in the 12th year as an English teacher I am extremely proud I can inspire mu students so much that they make their English a priority in their studies and I am delighted whenever one of them decides to work for a Cambridge examination (and even more delighted when, after months and months of studying hard, they pass it with flying colors.
To sum up, English has turned me into a more creative person, one always eager to explore, discover, apply and then pass it on. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Between Shades of Gray

My students are taking over the blog! This post is written by my dear Alexandra, aka The Pianist Butterfly :) 

The book is written by Ruta Sepetys, who was born and raised in Michigan, in a family of artists, readers and music lovers. She was born on November 19th 1967. Her first novel, “Between Shades of Gray”, about the Genocide of Baltic people after the Sovietic occupation, was critically acclaimed and translated into over 22 different languages.

I found this book on a rainy day in November. It was just as if she was calling my name hidden between hundreds and hundreds of books from the shelves. So, when I took it, I felt that a new world is about to be born in my hands; a world made of words, simple words which built a story of hope and love. Love above all.

The voice of a young girl breaks the silence of history. Lina is a fifteen year old teenager who lives in Lithuania with her parents and her younger brother, Jonas. But one night, when some frightening bangs threaten their door, their life is about to change forever. Lina, Jonas and her mother, Elena are evacuated from the house. The secret police arrest them. They are dragged in cattle vans. Soon, they discover that their destination is Siberia. What happens next? The story describes a page of history. A page full of despair, screams, cruelty and death. But, in between the lines, some hope and shy courage sneak in Lina’s heart. She fights for Jonas even if their mother dies.

The story shows that love, even if it sounds trivial, love will overcome. Always. Nobody says that there will be no scratches, wounds and tears. Bu all these make a worthy victory. And Lina takes all those risks to win the victory against death and war in the end.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Women Writers - January 2015

This month I came across some quite interesting books, very different one from the other.

I discovered Jenny McCarthy while is high school and she was hosting some shows on MTV. I didn't like her back then because I thought she was just a dumb blonde. Then, while she was dating Jim Carrey I watched her in some interviews and realized she actually has a brain and is not afraid to use it. I was touched by her story and the fact that her son had autism and years later, "Love, Lust & Faking it" has dropped into my virtual hands... The book is a bit naught, just like her nature, lots of fun (you must love the episode in which she meets Brad Pitt, or does she... ) and how strong she can be when it comes to expressing herself no matter the obstacles or the entourage. it is a light book that still has some seriousness to it: you are responsible for your own happiness and the compromises you make. Click here for a lighthearted interview with the writer herself.

"You can create an exceptional life" was written by the famous Louise Hay, whose books I appreciate quite a lot, for being so helpful in my understanding of how things work and how you can stay positive no matter what. I follow her posts and I plan on finishing reading all her books this year, so you may call me one of her fans :) This book is written together with one of her disciples, Cheryl Richardson and you can listen to a short interview about the book here. 

How ironic to find two books whose titles are switched. After having read Murakami's "The Men without Women", I came across Parsipur's "Women without Men" (1989), a novella about five different women from Iran whose faith is defined by the men who are, were or will be present in their lives but also by the garden they share from time to time. It is a daring book, banned in Iran and one that placed its writer in jail back when it was written, but for us, the one who are free to read and discuss it, it is a special book which mixes tragic events with a magical realism that has impressed me a lot. The beautiful image of the woman transforming herself into seeds one summer will surely remain with me for quite some time.

All these books read for my pleasure and for The Women Challenge 2015 :)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Men without Women

The second Haruki Murakami book I managed to finish a few days ago is "The Men without Women", a collection of short stories that appeared in the spring of 2014 in Japanese edition and at the end of the year in Romanian translation. I am so proud Romanian publishers appreciate his work so much as to translate it even if the American publishers have decided not to do it yet, maybe expecting to include the stories in a bigger collection, just as they did with "The Elephant Vanishes"...

Unlike the Japanese version with 6 stories, the Romanian version contains 7 stories, "Samsa in love" being added to it. All the stories except the one that gives the title of his collection had previously been published in different international magazines.
Here are the stories, in short:
"Drive my Car" - an actor and a female driver, both with a less than happy past and with a possible future together.

"Yesterday" - the story of two college students who learn how to love and let go.

"An Independent organ" - the story of a doctor so in love with a married woman that he isolates himself from the world.

"Scheherazade" - probably my favorite story of this collection, it presents Habara, a lonely man visited by a woman who tells him strange stories.

"Kino" - after his wife leaves him, a man opens a bar and thus encounters a strange presence.

"Samsa in Love" - a cockroach wakes up to discover he has been transformed into a human, one that needs to love and to feel loved.

"The Men without Women" -one midnight you are woken up by a phone call that lets you know your previous love died ...

All these Murakami stories seem to echo one another and mix lost love, disappointment and sadness, with a pinch of wonder about what it might have been. I really enjoyed rereading some of them in Romanian and I am looking forward to (re)discovering other short stories of his.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Murakami all the way...

"If you don't know something, go to the library and look it up." 

It's the 12th of January and it is Haruki Murakami's birthday! What better way to celebrate him than read one of his works and to start the new year and the challenges mentioned in the previous post I have chosen "The Strange Library", a dark story Murakami released in Japan in 2008 and in an English version with drawings at the end of last year.

The fable presents a boy who loves reading and who finds himself entrapped in an enormous labyrinth in the basement of the local library, expected to read books about how taxes were collected in the Ottoman empire and do his best in order to learn them by heart.... or else.

"Just because I don't exist in the sheep man's world, it doesn't mean that I don't exist at all."

Reality and illusion seem to mingle to perfection in this story and recurrent themes and characters put up an impressive show for the readers. Having read "Memoirs of a Shepherd", the boy seems to meet a shepherd in the basement; bitten by a ferocious black dog, he sees one there as well. The library with its hidden basement is actually meant to represent his subconscious.

How often do we find ourselves wondering about characters in the books we read, willing to meet them and interact with them? The boy seems to go through such an experience that leaves him wondering what really happened "how it feels to be alone, sadness surrounding me". Going back to 'the real world' after having been away for three days creates a feeling of loneliness and of missing out ... maybe girls speaking with their hands...

"The world follows its own course. Each possesses his own thoughts, each treads his own path."

Monday, January 5, 2015

New year, Old but Great Challenges...

Time has come for me to go back to the reading/writing board and stop fooling around :) I miss jotting down a few lines now and then to let you know what marvelous books I have come across, but one of the resolutions I am planning to stick to this year is to have 2-3 posts related to books each month, so stick around, this blog is not dead :)

And what better start than reading Japanese literature - this month for January in Japan challenge and all along the year for Bellezza's Japanese literature challenge (see links on the right)? I am planning on reading two Haruki Murakami books, since it's his birthday on the 12th of January and Kawabata's The Lake. I have wanted to read it for quite some time now and I think it will happen :)

Also, I am planning on reading 2 books each month written by female authors for The Women Challenge and this goal should not be difficult to reach since I have noticed I tend to read quite a lot of female writers. With more than 20 books read this year, this will actually turn me into a Wonder Woman (see challenge).


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Joyful Christmas, Everyone!

... and lots of time for good readings :) 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Literary Affair

It has been a busy month for Jeanette Winterson. At he beginning of August she flew to Australia together with her partner and personal therapist, Susie Orbach to attend Byron Bay Writers' Festival where she spoke about her struggles as a writer and the way she coped with loss and depression: "I’d always had enough fuel and energy to push me forward, and find a way through using language and writing (...) It caused me to go into a place that was completely terrifying because I’d lost language… I lost any sense of being able to describe what was happening to me.”
Then, just a few days ago she published two articles for The Guardian, both as part of a series whose topics are "My Hero" and the weekend special "The One that Got Away".
I quite enjoyed discovering who my hero's hero is... and it is Kate Bush, the one who gave Jeanette's "19 year old self a strategy for life and art" and I can empathize with the impatience of looking forward to seeing her in a concert this very week, 35 years after the revelatory moment. Kate offered Jeanette "salvation of a different kind", and this is what true heroes do, don't they?

The article on lost love is simply a beautiful gem, a piece of writing whose words you would like to remember forever because they show Jeanette's genius in recreating a piece of her past, love related, without naming anyone in particular.

"I realised a few years ago that the script I was running through all my relationships was a narrative of loss. Either I chose, or let myself be chosen by, people who weren't free (those were the exciting ones), or I had bouts of duty where I tried to settle down in a way guaranteed to find me secret-sighing over someone else. Changing that story changed my relationship with myself – which is, after all, the relationship all other relationships must negotiate." 

These words reminded me of her lines from "The Powerbook":
"The alphabet of my DNA shapes certain words, but the story is never told. I have to tell it myself.
What is it I have to tell myself again and again?
That there is always a new beginning, a different end.
I can change the story. I am the story.

If you are familiar with her attempt of committing suicide after one of her relationships had ended (subject she talks about in her memoir "Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?") then reading this optimistic take on her past love and loss is quite uplifting and it shows how much she evolved emotionally.

"Love is hard work. We don't hear enough about that. Falling in love is the easy part – it's why affairs are so exciting and attractive – none of the toil, all of the fun. I used to have a lot of affairs until I realised it was like growing cress on a flannel – instant results, no roots."

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JEANETTE! Thank you for being a neverending inspiration! :) 
P.S. Madonna attended the same concert last night in London, how cool and 'coming full circle' that is? :)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Beauty and Sadness

 Another month, another book by a Japanese writer... This time it was Kawabata's masterpiece, "Beauty and Sadness". It is a book about lost love, regret and the way we may or may not cope with all that, in fact, it is a sad story, one that leaves you pondering over the way one can (or cannot) move beyond despair and unshared love. It is the story whose main characters are the feelings people experience, not themselves. It is the place where hesitation and indecision alter the characters forever.

"Oki had thought he would telephone her the next day, if not that night, or drop in at her house. But in the morning, after being awakened by his neighbors' children, he began to feel hesitant, and decided to send her a special letter. As he sat at the writing desk staring perplexedly at a blank sheet of hotel stationery he decided that he need not see her, that it would be enough to hear the bells alone and then go back."

If you are the type of person that enjoys haiku, then you will find the story simply beautiful because to me, it felt like one, even if it stretches over 160 pages, not 17 syllables.  Written 50 years ago and being Kawabata's last published work, "Beauty and Sadness" presents the old writer Oki and his obsession with lost love decades ago, when Otoko loved him but he betrayed her. The story turns into a love triangle meant to go wrong... 

“Time passed. But time flows in many streams. Like a river, an inner stream of time will flow rapidly at some places and sluggishly at others, or perhaps even stand hopelessly stagnant. Cosmic time is the same for everyone, but human time differs with each person. Time flows in the same way for all human beings; every human being flows through time in a different way.” 

Read for my pleasure and for the Japanese Reading Challenge 8

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Day of Soul Mates

From 10th August at dusk until the 11th at the same time, kabbalists celebrate TU B'AV, the holiday of love that happens during the full moon of the month of Leo and it is regarded as the day in which all the mysteries of Kabbalah were revealed, so this actually makes it the most powerful day of the year.
It is the day in which we can discover who we really are by connecting to the positive energy around us, but this can only be done by letting go of who we are, of past chaos, of our fears, limitations and rigid ideas and ask for the light. We need to let go in order to let the Creator come in. Also, kabbalists state that changing by ourselves is impossible and this is the reason why we need to leave our comfort zone and give love in order to receive love.
If you want to find out more about soul mates from a kabbalistic point of view, Karen Berg explains the concept in short, here.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

What is CPS?

 As defined in the PISA 2015 draft, CPS, short for Collaborative Problem Solving, is “a critical and necessary skill across educational settings and in the workforce (…) It is the capacity of an individual to effectively engage in a process whereby two or more agents attempt to solve a problem by sharing the understanding and effort required to come to a solution and pooling their knowledge, skills and efforts to reach that solution”. 

Since “no man is an island” (John Donne), we, as teachers, are bound to know how to tackle such an issue in order to teach it well and emphasize its use when it comes to collaborating to solve a task. Even if great minds can think alike, different minds can bring to the table different talents and ways of seeing the world and creativity should always be an aspect we cherish and assess when solving a task. CPS is more complex than usual group work because it includes a lot of different behaviors and strands, at different levels. 
The social and cognitive skills involved in CPS are quite complex and they demonstrate the vast area of expertise that those who have to finalize a task should possess. On the one hand, certain students can be good at looking for information, while others excel at organizing it and setting the right strategies to reach their solution, not after serious negotiation has taken place. On the other hand, when working together, students inevitably see how things can be done differently and they definitely learn from their peers, even without realizing it. This exchange of certain skills is one of the aspects that are of extreme importance when students are involved in CPS activities because they can all evolve and learn from each other without the stress of being too aware of that process and having to reach a certain level of knowledge.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ne le Dis a Personne

If you are an avid movie buff like myself, especially when it comes to French movies, you surely have seen at least one starring Francois Cluzet. If you haven't, then it's time to do your homework and you may even start with "Tell No One", and then move to the spectacular "Les Intouchables" which you will surely adore. "Ne le dis a personne" is not the only collaboration between Cluzet and the young director, former actor, Guillaume Canet. In 2010 he also starred in Canet's movie "Les petits mouchoirs", which is also an interesting movie about friends, family and love that ties all that.
"Ne le Dis a Personne" tells the story of a pediatrician who marries his childhood sweetheart, and then, his wife is killed... or so it seems. Then, years later, he is accused of having killed his wife and he finds himself struggling to prove that is not true... Of course, you cannot trust anyone's words in this thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat until you realize the final credits are on the screen. Definitely worth seeing, especially because my favorite actress, the versatile Kristin Scott Thomas, stars as well and I cannot but love it every time she speaks French with that fancy accent of hers :)
Here's the trailer!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Paulo Coelho's "Adultere"

"If life asked you what you did for it, what would your response be?"
"Running after a dream, that comes with a price."
"The most important lesson: learning how to love better and better."
"Love is not only a feeling, it is an art. And just like every other art, inspiration is not enough, it requires a lot of work."  
"We refuse our destiny because it leads to happiness, and we only want security."
"Nothing comes without any effort. You need to have faith."

The French edition of Paulo Coelho's latest book appeared in May this year, three months before the English version, which is bound to appear in August. Needless to say, I could not wait "so much" time and then, why should I?
The book surprised me, not due to its topic, which revolves around cheating, but because I found I could not relate to the main character's problems, more or less imaginary and her struggle to go beyond feeling bored and dissatisfied. I personally believe that you cannot get bored unless you actually want it... but Paulo Coelho felt differently with his character.
The story tells us about Linda, a 31 year old supposedly happily married journalist who decides to have an affair with a former high school lover in order to rekindle the desire and joy within herself. Whether she succeeds or not, or if she jumps - literally and metaphorically - in order to move from the darkness into the light, that's for you to discover while reading the book.
Here's Paulo promoting the book.