Thursday, March 15, 2007


Continuing with my latest theme, which is a complete dearth of news-related topics, here's some of my thoughts that I've written down lately.

I was just now looking back through some photos of Washington that I have stored on this computer and marveling at how strong the memories are that they evoke. Just a few small images of mossy logs, some trunks shrouded in fog, a path carpeted with leaves are enough to transport me back to my western Washington. I can smell the mist, see the damp streets, feel the slick asphalt under the knobby tires of my bicycle. Hear the crunch of wet snow under my feet and above all, the sound of nothing. You might think that the middle of nowhere in Central America would be a pretty quiet place, but it’s at least as noisy as any city I have lived in, though that’s not saying much. Not a moment passes when there isn’t some dog barking, rooster crowing, bird singing, or little kid shrieking somewhere. And the locusts! They last for six months and you wouldn’t BELIEVE how loud they are. I’m not complaining, you know, that’s just how it is. The coniferous forests of my homeland are like a different planet, almost.

I remember when I actually lived in Washington, like way back in the day, I used to sometimes feel a tangible connection to the land, a sense of place or something like that. I have no idea how to describe it. I think the best way would be to say that being able to experience the environment there was a vital commodity for me. Anytime I felt crappy, I just went for a walk in the woods and my internal tranquility reserve filled up again. I never understood why the western Washington ambience depressed people. I loved the cool grey days, the subdued watercolor shades of everything, the light rain and soft sun, and most especially the mist-wreathed greenery. I carry that world around inside me all the time, still as alive as if I had left it yesterday. I’m like an inverted greenhouse; outside me it’s Honduras, but inside, it’s still Washington.

As great as my experience in here in Honduras has been, I’ve never gotten that umbilical feeling of connection to the land, for some reason, and I will say that I think it took me less time than two years living in western Washington to start feeling that way. Perhaps the heat here has something to do with it, the fact that I can’t walk anywhere at any time of the year without sweating through my shirt. In a more general sense, the ambience in Honduras doesn’t inspire that same sense of peacefulness. There’s always something crawling, eating, flying, rotting, procreating, making noise, excreting, or growing. The light is outrageous and exaggerated. The air seems to hum with vitality. If there isn’t a torrential thunderstorm falling, there’s the merciless tropical sun beating down. If my clothes aren’t covered in dust, there’s probably mold growing on them. I dig it for being so MUCH everything, like I appreciate anything that is new or unique, but for some reason it still doesn’t feel like my own. Maybe I passed the stage of life of “taking to” a place. Or maybe it’s just because it’s SO different here.

Here there be some favorites of mine so far during service:

Best Books
First of all, let me clarify that these aren’t necessarily the “best” books that I’ve read, the ones you’re most likely to see in a university text or Oprah’s book list or any of that junk. They’re simply the ones I got the most enjoyment out of reading. I read 100 Years of Solitude twice, certainly a masterpiece of literature, and neither time was it as fun as La Sombra del Viento.

Jayber Crow – Wendell Berry
This guy is Mark Twain’s rightful spiritual heir. Those that know me pretty well will understand the class of compliment that this is from me. This is earthy philosophy, eminently readable and so American it hurts.

The True Story of the Kelly Gang – Peter Carey
Fascinating, awesome writing.

Nostromo - Joseph Conrad
Conrad is one of my three or four favorite authors of all time and this is the best book of his that I’ve read, with the possible exception of Heart of Darkness.

Cosmic Banditos - A. C. Weisbecker
Hilarious; Weisbecker has a wonderful style and spontaneous wit. Cosmic Banditos is a ridiculous book with no point that goes nowhere, and wallows in mindless self-indulgence along the way.

All the William Faulkner that I’ve read here
Faulkner’s style is overblown and gets on my nerves like nothing else, and he unnecessarily overcomplicates the structure of his stories, and despite those problems I still can’t stop reading his books. And I’ve just scratched the surface. I still don’t know what to think about some of his stuff, which is always a sign of true greatness. Like As I Lay Dying. What in the hell was that?

Breakfast of Champions, Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this author. Fantastic. Going to read more!

La Sombra del Viento – Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This is probably about the closest thing to a romance novel that I’ve read, apart from that Isabel Allende book mom sent me (I think anything written in the Spanish language turns into a romance something or other, somehow). The author takes some extreme narrative liberties, but the underlying plot and the character development are so damn good you have to forgive him. I’ve never gotten so emotionally attached to characters before. Zafón uses every cliché you can think of and bends them to his evil purposes, and even conscious of the crap he’s pulling, you can’t help falling for it. The English version is titled The Shadow of the Wind, but I read a few pages and it didn’t feel the same. :P

A Stillness at Appomattox – Bruce Catton
Entertaining, dramatic, and beautiful, it feels more like a novel than a history book about the American civil war. I especially love the way he weaves in the touching bits of humanity that were passed between the two sides even during the most brutal fighting ever seen on the continent.

Anthills of the Savannah – Chinua Achebe
Achebe is a master storyteller with a razor sharp sense of irony. The book has a strong moral wisdom to it, but besides that it’s also an engaging story that feels absolutely real, from the characters to the events that take place.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan
I didn’t have too much interest in Amy Tan before picking up this book on a whim, and I’m sure glad I did. She is an absolute master. Subtly and unpretentiously, she weaves the lives of the characters around you until you suddenly find yourself experiencing life through their eyes, navigating a mysterious story more vivid than reality.

I guess this is kind of a lot of favorites, but lest you think I’m indiscriminately throwing everything I’ve read on here, keep in mind that according to the list I’ve kept I’m almost up to 90 books so far since leaving the states. I’ve read a lot of mediocre books too and a few that just plain stunk.

Best Music
Louden Wainwright III – So Damn Happy

Salif Keita – Mansa of Mali
I think this guy has jumped to the front of my favorite dudes from Africa that Dad has introduced me to. Hell, it’s a tough call.

My World Music mix CD
There’s this one song at the very end of it that I never noticed much back in the states and I can’t remember who it’s by, but it beats the everloving crap out of everything else on the CD, and that’s saying something. Help, Maya?

Neville Bros – Brother’s Keeper (before it got ruined by the humidity)
One of those CDs you listen to a lot, and then don’t hear for years and years, and when you hear it again it sounds even better than all that time ago.

Green Day – American Idiot (before it got ruined by the humidity)
Glad to see that my once-favorite band has redeemed themselves for Warning. I guess my taste in middle school wasn’t so bad after all. :)

Old Crow Medicine Show – OCMS
I thought these guys were from like the 60s and then found out they’re a new group. Excellent! I just have a soft spot for fiddle music, I guess.

Dad’s Labor Day program CD (really!)
I gave Dad a hard time about his locution when he was here, but I’d only listened to the CD a couple of times and he was right, he just sounds scared more than anything else. I hope my words didn’t discourage him from ever trying a similar project, because after all told I love these two CDs. There are many, many awesome songs on them.

Out of all these, I’d say So Damn Happy has probably gotten the most play. That guy is one hell of a songwriter.

Worst Books
Well, for every best there has to be a worst, right?

Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon
Pynchon might be a genius, but who cares. I’m still trying to figure out how I managed to finish reading this interminable piece of crap. Thank God recent authors have gotten out of the habit of trying to one-up each other with the longest run-on sentence possible.

Valhalla Rising – Clive Cussler
The only proper response is to laugh. Although even that is getting difficult since I realized that it probably sold five times as many copies as Jayber Crow. I’m not sure I could summon a more depressing thought if I tried.

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
O V E R R A T E D. Brown has a numerologist’s knack for making everything sound like some kind of conspiracy, but underneath the hype and transparent suspense-novel trick of making every chapter three pages long is some really mediocre prose.

Worst Music
Ok, so I don’t actually own all of this.

This genre of music, born in Puerto Rico, takes American rap vocal techniques (more or less) and “cash & b****es”-type lyrics, puts it against the exact same backbeat in every single song, and trades out the black or white bimbos for latina ones. ‘Nuff said.

Candy Shop – Ludacris or something like that (appropriate name)
That toothless, devout, sombrero’d sixty year old farmer on the bus doesn’t know what he’s actually humming along to, but dang, it’s catchy.

Ashley MacIsaac – A newer CD (didn’t see the name)
Sorry Sam, hahaha. Maya says you like this CD. The music is good and all but the lyrics are pure comedy; I don’t think I’ve heard any this ridiculous since Gravity Kills. He should probably stick to the fiddle.

Later guys. :)


At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gabe, what an entertaining blog! You are so articulate in describing what you like/dislike about your favorite reads and listens. In regard to your thinking you may be too old to develop a sense of belonging to a certain place, remember that I got that draw to a place for the first time in my life in my 30's somewhere, when Dad and I drove up I-5 toward Bellingham, and I told him that I didn't know why, but that I had a very strong feeling that I was 'home'. Western Washington is home inside and out. Grandpa Chesko got it in his early 50's when he and Mom moved to Wisconsin. He always says it's the most beautiful place in the world. Does this bout of reminiscing mean you're definitely coming home in August? Shall I kick the boarders out of the extra room? We're certainly ready for you!
Yer Mom

At 10:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said... I [partially] agree about the Ashley McIsaac CD. It is definitely not as rockin' as Hi How are You Today. My Canadian buddy Tom said Ashley was known for his alcoholism, back when the older of the CDs came out. Then he dropped out of the scene for a while. Now that he's back, I'm guessing he's maybe kicked the habit and lost his inspiration. Oh well...



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