Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Love in the Time of Cholera: Book Review

After 3 months, 4 days and one 8 hours of feverish reading in one day I finally finished Love in the Time of Cholera this Sunday. I tried to write about my reflections on the book over the last few days but I think I was still entrenched in the world of Fermina and Florentino and needed some time to exorcise the story from my body and consciousness.

Like our heroine Fermina Daza had with woeful hopeless romantic Florentino Ariza I had a love/hate relationship with this book. Several years ago I picked it up full of innocent longing for a good story, but after reading several dozen pages I decided that the that it didn’t have the chops to keep my attention for the long haul. It was exiled to the book shelf, out of sight and out of mind for several years passed (though nowhere near the 51 years and some change that Florentino patiently idled away his time in love affairs to break the monotony of endless pining for Fermina while he waited for her husband to die so he could once again put the moves on her). Out of the blue, the book became an Oprah book club selection and started generating a lot of buzz. This piqued my curiousity and I slowly warmed again to the idea of reading the story. Perhaps I had made a mistake the first time around.

Here is a brief plot summary: Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza were childhood sweethearts. Although they never shared a proper conversation, they steal surreptious glances and fan the flames of young love with a secret correspondence of love letters. When Fermina decides that what exists between she and Florentino is not love, but some kind of adolescent illusion, she rejects him and leaves him tormented and brokenhearted. Fermina goes on to marry and have children, but Florentino spends his entire life carrying a torch for Fermina. While he stays devout in his singular love and devotion for Fermina Daza, he finds comfort in a multitude of secret love affairs of the flesh. 51 years, 9 months and 4 days go by since the days of their earlier letters when, upon the death of Fermina's husband, Florentino steps out of the shadows to once again profess his everlasting fidelity .

While it wasn’t my very favorite book of all time and I would be cautious recommending this book to just anyone, I enjoyed the story and the rich portraits of the characters spanning two centuries in Colombia. Florentino Ariza was at the same time a devoted and caring and borderline maniacal and stalkerish suitor. Fermina was haughty and obstinate, a woman whose identity was spirited identity is traded for the stable life of a wife and mother. Gabriel Garcia Marquez can write vivid heart breaking descriptions of the joy and agony of love in all of its many forms like no other. I also think he perfectly captured the inherent contradictions in human character.

On the downside, I found that the meticulously detailed descriptions that drew me into the story and kept me wanting more also served to repel me at other points in the narrative. Sometimes in the middle section of the book I thought I could take a slow boat to Paris and back before the plot would move forward.

After reading the story of Florentino and Fermina's early days of exchanging letters and her ultimate rejection, I felt like this was one of the best books ever written. It make me feel as though I wanted to stimulate my brain with some more challenging classics (although this is a more contemporary classic as I later found out this book was written in 1985) but at other times I felt like I was just gritting my teeth and pushing through. That said, I felt satisfied but weary and did feel like I should get a medal for conquering the marathon of books when I finally reached the final page.

Next up:
My next Girls Book and Wine Club selection:
Him Her Him Again The End of Him by Saturday Night Live writer alum Patricia Marx.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Catching Up

Here's a lazy one where I smash all of the events of the last few weekends into one post. Here's are some of my highlights from the last few weeks:

Dinner with my parents at Bahama Breeze while they were in town. We had a lively discussion about life and the elections this year. My Mom wiggled over my Dad's lap to switch places with him in our booth. The rest of us laughed hysterically except my sister's highbrow boyfriend who looked on in horror. His eyes and neatly manicured eyebrows nearly jumped out of his head and on to his appetizer plate.

I tried on bridesmaids dresses for my youngest sister Laure's wedding. She encouraged us to get the coolest dresses possible as the wedding will be held in Lake Havasu in August. Mine is a little black dress that could actually make a second appearance at a Christmas cocktail party or a friend's wedding. I didn't order it right away because one of my fellow bridesmaids, Sandra, brought her little baby girl to David's Bridal and she seriously put the baby voodoo on me with her giant brown eyes and sweet temperament. This temporarily clouded my judgment and made me put off buying my dress for a month. Definitely no plans, but just in case of the unlikely event. My sister would kill me if I couldn't have drinks with her at her wedding.

Just as Spring Break was beginning, I was knocked out cold by some kind of sickness. I lost my will to do anything but sleep and eat Cadbury Mini Eggs for several days, but I did recover pretty quickly and go hiking again last weekend. I luckily begged out of the early morning hike that Paul, Tim and Tim went on 5:30 am in search of a phantom trail Paul loves that leads to the top of a really high peak. When they got back they couldn't wait to tell Heather, who crashed on our couch from 5:30 until we woke up, and I about their adventures. Apparently on the way back down they rode a rock avalanche about a hundred feet down the mountain (it has grown to 200 feet in this weeks storytelling).
"We almost died." Tim said.
"Yeah," Paul said, "It was awesome."
Boys, boys. Heather and I joined them for some afternoon hiking that involved neither rock avalanche surfing nor almost dying.

The Girls Book and Wine Club reconvened after a three month hiatus at Ashley's last Sunday to discuss What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson. Three months was way too long between get-togethers. Many factors conspired to continually get us off topic which led to a fun afternoon but with one that was light on the great book discussion we usually have. That's too bad because I think this book could really have generated some good questions and discussion since the topic is so universal. The book is a compilation of stories from people who have answered this ultimate question, what should I do with my life? I'll have to do another post to talk about it in more detail.

That bring us up to last week, my Spring Break. Still slightly recovering from my sickness, I basically split my time between my couch and Borders with a few trips to the gym sprinkled in towards the end. I caught up on some movies. I rented Dan In Real Life and Enchanted, both of which I enjoyed, but Dan had the edge if you ask me, and spent a lot of time writing, just not on my blog.

And to perfectly round out the week, dinner and a competitive round of Balderdash , my favorite bluffing board game ever, with friends were in order last night. I can sometimes dominate on game night, but last night not so much. I can't believe nobody voted for International Belly Dancers with Cancer Corps for IBDCC! That totally sounds real. Anyway, the last few weeks have been pretty great though I am a little sad to see Spring Break end.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Menu del Dia - ¡Te Echo De Menos!

Ever since the Las Vegas weather gods have started teasing us with some gorgeous warm and sunny days here and there I have been suffering from some serious spring fever. Its really tough to keep myself planted in my office chair indoors when I'm planning for my classes. My eyes and my mind keep wandering out the window and making a very convincing case for my body to follow out onto a blanket in the soft grass in the company of the fresh air and golden sun. I've been carrying a fuzzy pink blanket in my trunk just for such opportunities.

To take full advantage of the nicer weather, I spent this lovely sunny Saturday morning hiking out at Red Rock Canyon with Paul and our friend Tim. I haven't really been hiking too much since the Camino last summer so I am a little out of practice, but we did a pretty easy although somewhat steep hike to ease ourselves back into it. Paul took the doors off of his Jeep this morning and was very excited to monster truck over the bumpy trails to get to our starting point.

After we finished up hiking, we headed back to town to grab some lunch. Our lunch conversation turned to the indisputable fact that everything tastes better after a full day of exertion. I remember thinking during nearly every meal on the Camino, save for the curious (read: disgusting) veggie meatloaf in Logroño, "This is the best _________ I've ever eaten!" This is the best beef (ternera -mmm!) and oily french fries I've ever eaten. This is the best squashed-up-from-being-in-my-backpack-for-2-days banana or plum I have ever eaten! This is the best salad with tuna and oil I have ever eaten! This is the best roasted galic soup I have ever eaten. I love most Spanish food to begin with, but it all seemed take on a unnaturally delicious taste after working up an appetite. Even Coca-Cola, which I almost never never touch at home, was incredibly delicious.

All this talk and a recent post by Joe at Italyville where he shares a list of the foods he misses most from Italy got me feeling nostalgic for my favorite sabrositos Spanish treats. So here's my little contribution to the list of foods missed from abroad.

Menú del dia or Menú de Peregrinos After 12 - 15 miles on the road each day, we were exhaused and absolutely ravenous. The menú de peregrinos was just what the doctor ordered, a 3 course meal served at a restaurant or bar, complete with copious amounts of pan and your choice of vino or agua. Most provided a choice of starters (usually salad, soup or pasta), main course (beef, chicken or fish) and dessert and were definitely worth the price.

Zazamoros Little pieces of raspberry and blackberry flavored sugary heaven. You can get these here in the US, but somehow they are just not the same. I first discovered these at the candy/record store down the street from my apartment when I lived in San Sebastián and of course I sought them out again this summer.

A Napolitana with Cola Cao or Café con leche - Ah, the breakfast of champions. A flaky chocolately croissant paired with the Spanish answer to hot chocolate or coffee with steamed milk. Not the healthiest, but this isn't the top healthiest foods in Spain, its just my favorites.

Nestle Maxibon Fittingly last since it is the dessert, the mother of all helado, the Maxibon. Most of the Spanish bars that I passed by carried a tempting array of ice cream bars from either Nestle or Frigo, but this half ice cream bar, half ice cream sandwich, held the number one spot for me. I consumed at least one a day, a wonderful perk of burning off so many calories.

What foods do you really miss that typify the places abroad that you've lived or visited? Or if you're out on the road are you missing some strange things from home?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


That means sucker in Japanese. Actually, it doesn't. I just made that up, but I'm pretty sure I fell prey to the latest infomercial scam. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I bought the Kinoki foot pads. Yeah, the ones from the infomercial.

They sounded so great - detoxing, helping rid your body of headaches and metabolic waste, reducing cellulite (OK, I was skeptical about that one), promoting vibrant health and wellness. Who doesn't want vibrant health and wellness? The commercial claimed that the products use the ancient Japanese art of reflexology and acupressure along with negative ions to work their magic. I was intrigued. Even my level-headed husband who is skeptical of everything to do with advertising was interested so I bought them. What the hell, I figured. Even if they just had a placebo effect, I was game for that.

After 4 weeks of waiting for them to arrive, Paul and I have been testing out the "magical" Kinoki foot pads over the last week. Here are some pictures:

Here's the before picture. They come in nice little shamrock packaging.

This is after night 1. I'm sorry to tell you that all of that brown stuff is already inside the pad to begin with. I think that the moisture from your foot activates one of the ingredients to let it show through.

The official prognosis after almost a week: I almost want to call the Mythbusters guys to check these out. Here are my observations:

  1. Something is definitely coming out of my foot at night, but I'm not convinced its toxins, metals or metabolic waste. It might just be sweat.
  2. In the morning when I peel them off of my foot there is a strong odor that smells like liquid smoke.
  3. Since I have started using the Kinoki's I have felt really tired. Paul and I both took 2+ hour naps in the middle of the day on Sunday. This, of course, may be a confounding with other variables or maybe that's just what happens when your body gets rid of toxins.
  4. I'm not sure how reflexology or acupressure could play any part in the efficacy of these pads since you can place them anywhere on your foot or even on your shoulder or back.
  5. Sadly, no movement on the cellulite front.

I guess I should have known when I saw that their website contains tag lines like "Experience Kinoki's Natural Power of Nature!" Really, nature is natural? Hmmm.

I guess that's what I get for armchair traveling via infomercial products.
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