Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Precocious Adventures

Some books are wonderful to listen to, and when the author is also the reader, it can be an exquisite experience.  Such is the case of a beautifully written story by Michael Ondaatje titled The Cat’s Table.  The cadence and deep voice of the author just adds to the ambiance and though I’m only halfway, I look for reasons to drive my car to hear more of the story.    

The tale is of Michael, an eleven year old boy, who voyages from his old life in Sri Lanka to his new one in England in the 1950s.  He is assigned to the Cat’s Table, which is at the other end of the spectrum from the Captain’s Table, but is also way more interesting.  It is here that Michael befriends two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin, along with a motley group of eccentric adults.  The boys, all traveling alone, spend the trip running wild throughout the ship causing all kinds of mischief and having one great adventure after another.  It is a twenty one day interlude between the reality they came from and the one they are going to.  There are also some poignant moments where, in the midst of things, Michael learns a little about the man he will become.  The sea voyage is the beginning of a life-long journey to that adult.  

What caught me was how Michael was not surprised to be traveling alone for three weeks but that he was surprised his family had actually seen him to the ship.  He had fully expected that he was to take the bus there alone.  I kind of understood that.   

Between the ages of 9 and 11, I attended boarding school in a grand old villa perched high above the Hudson River.  Though my family usually dropped me off Sunday evenings, I generally made my own way home each Friday.  In my dress uniform and navy blue felt brimmed hat, I, along with the rest of the girls, would drag my suitcase down the steep hill to the station to catch the next train to the city.  Then I’d make my way through Grand Central Station and hail a cab.  It was the mid-sixties and expectations were such that I would know how to get home on my own; which I did.  

Of course, like Michael and the boys, I’m sure there were times when my guardian angel was working a little overtime, like when I was crawling out on the rocks at the Hudson’s shoreline or teaching myself how to successfully strike a match.  We are a bit fearless at that age, aren't we?

In Michael’s story, I felt the allure of exploring the ship.  So many places to investigate and secrets to uncover: an indoor garden, a curious painting, breaking into first class cabins and so much more.  Sure, they got into trouble a few times, but it seems that most of their escapades were worth it.  Since I haven’t finished the book, maybe that will change.

The grounds at my boarding school were equally intriguing.  There was one we called the haunted house among the ancient abandoned buildings.  It was down the path from the main grounds and I’m not sure we were supposed to go there but who could resist?  On a dare, I did make my way into the house once, but I only made it just past the entrance before I got too scared to go on.  My adult self wishes I had gone a little further.  Perhaps my partners in crime weren’t as fearless as Michael and his friends.  Too many ghost stories, I guess. 

Like those boys, we girls were also a bit mischievous.  We even devised our own communication system where we’d throw wire hangers up to the dorm window above us or them to us below.  I’ve often wondered what the nuns thought when they found all those hangers in the deep pit under the windows.  Did they know?  

Eleven is an age when you’re on the brink of adolescence.  You’re not quite there yet but you’re just becoming aware that there’s more to come and that soon, life will change.

For Michael and his friends, there is this very distinct period, just 21 days long, where they have the freedom to explore, make foolish choices and be wild for just a bit longer.  Soon, this will come to an end, like all journeys do, and they will have to grow up. 

Yet, through them, for a short while, you can still be that impish child, full of wonder and curiosity, imagining what sort of trouble you might get into. 

Have fun, at least until the book ends…


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ideas for the Romantically Challenged

Ah, February, the month of hearts and flowers.  The time when expectations are high and life gets a little stressful on relationships.  Who started all this?  Wouldn’t it be better to have romance all throughout the year instead of one focused day?   

Don’t even get me started about those of us who are not in a relationship as we watch the flow of flowers and chocolate go by.  An online card has been circulating about wishing one a happy single awareness day and to enjoy watching The Notebook with your cat.  It did give me a laugh but I was thinking it was just a little too close for comfort.  Though in my case, instead of the movie, it will be me having a nice cup of tea, while reading a good book with Angel Boy the Cat snuggled next to me. 

Jane Austen is favorite for us daydreamers and I just finished a perfect choice for those of us who are romantically challenged.  The book, Jane Austen MadeMe Do It, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress, has original short stories all inspired by Jane and her characters.  Who among us Jane followers doesn’t love Mr. Darcy, especially as portrayed by Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice?   Then, not as much for his looks but for the story of missed opportunities, there is Captain Wentworth in Persuasion.  The hopeless romantic (hopeful?) in me just loves how he and Anne finally find their way back to each other.  

Mind you, I know that Jane’s stories are unrealistic but they provide good old fashioned romance fantasy. Sigh!

Now, as many know, cats are creatures I love.  What you may not know is that I also love the big cats, especially the tigers.  Wouldn’t you know it, there’s a romance fantasy which stars not one but two lovely tigers in The Tiger’s Curse series written by Colleen Houck for young adults.    

Not long ago, I told an old friend that within me, I still held the essence of the young girl I once was.  He looked at me like I had lost my mind, perhaps because he had actually known her and knew that she had been a bit wild.  But though we all do grow old, most of us retain a little something of that younger self within us.  Hopefully, it’s the less foolish part but there’s no guarantee of that.   

It is that essence of my younger self that was captivated by this series.  The first book is Tiger’s Curse, followed by Tiger’s Quest.  I’ve just begun the third book, Tiger’s Voyage, and I see that a fourth one, Tiger’s Destiny is due out later this year. 

Essentially, it’s the story of a young woman from Oregon, Kelsey, who after graduating from high school, gets a short term summer job at a traveling circus.  She develops a close affinity to a beautiful white tiger with mysterious blue eyes.  When the tiger is sold to a gentleman from India, she is asked to accompany the tiger to its new home.  What follows is a wonderful epic tale of love and fantasy.  Did I mention there’s a handsome prince or two?  The tiger books held my interest with lots of mythology, prophecies, and legends indigenous to India.  I’ve been having a grand time making my way through this mythical adventure and look forward to each new quest. 

Oh, and then, there's the description of the food.  Reading books set in India always makes me hungry, most notably for my favorites, Vegetable Korma and Butter Chicken.  Fortunately I was able to share some with a friend last night. 

To celebrate this romance day, I’ll listen to Gato Barbieri (going with a theme here), pull out my tiger book and cuddle up with my cat.  I’ll dream about opening my front door to find my own handsome, albeit middle aged, prince.  As I fall into his deep blue eyes, I’ll note his younger self in that wry smile of his...

And then wake up to the doorbell ringing to find, you guessed it, Jehovah’s Witness on my doorstep instead.
So much for my romantic fantasy!  Where’s a land shark when you need one?