Staycation – Vancouver Island

Our staycation with the muchkin and her mother included a stop at Goldstream Park, up island from Victoria and a visit to the Malahat Sky Walk, featuring a treetop walkway that stands 20 meters above ground. The tower is 10 stories tall and 250 meters above sea level. The views are spectacular and the spiral slide down (used by the very young and very old–one lady celebrating her 91st birthday), is so fast that it leaves one reeling, but wanting to do it again. In fact, the munckin did run back up the ramp for a second go.

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Staycation – Victoria, BC

After three years (thank you, Covid), the munchkin and her mother were finally able to come for a visit. We took advantage of their time here to make nostalgic excursions around the city. From the marina with its airport for sea planes (sometimes closed due to whales on the runway) , to the horse drawn carriages, to the Bay center, to Chinatown (the second oldest in North America) home to Fan Tan Alley, to Chocolat Favori for a dipped cone, to the ocean with a view of the US (shrouded in cloud on this particular day).

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The Paris Library – Janet Skeslien Charles

Reading the description and sample of The Paris Library enticed me to buy the book. Afterall, based on a true story of WWII—a library to be saved from the Nazis, family, friendship, and a romance. Couldn’t get much better than that, right.

Unfortunately the story fell short of expectations. I kept reading, in the hope that it would get better, but…

The difficulty rested on lackluster characters (there was little redeeming about the protagonist, Odile), too much repetition, and too much telling rather than showing. The story rested on the surface of life and the tragedies that engulfed Paris as the war dragged on.

Not able to connect with the characters, I skimmed the last half of the book.

BLURB

Paris, 1939.

Young, ambitious, and tempestuous, Odile Souchet has it all: Paul, her handsome police officer beau; Margaret, her best friend from England; Remy, her twin brother who she adores; and a dream job at the American Library in Paris, working alongside the library’s legendary director, Dorothy Reeder. When World War II breaks out, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear—including her beloved library. After the Nazi army marches into the City of Light and declares a war on words, Odile and her fellow librarians join the Resistance with the best weapons they have: books. Again and again, they risk their lives to help their fellow Jewish readers, but by war’s end, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983.

Odile’s solitary existence in gossipy small-town Montana is unexpectedly interrupted by her neighbor Lily, a lonely teenager craving adventure. As Lily uncovers more about Odile’s mysterious past, they find they share not only a love of language but also the same lethal jealousy. Odile helps Lily navigate the troubled waters of adolescence by always recommending the right book at the right time, never suspecting that Lily will be the one to help her reckon with her own terrible secret.

Based on the true story of the American Library in Paris, The Paris Library is a mesmerizing and captivating novel about the people and the books that make us who we are, for good and for bad, and the courage it takes to forgive.

Slavery – Racism – Genocide

Slavery:

I noticed that Netflix was going to be dropping some movies including “Django, Unchained.” Being a Foxx fan, I knew about the movie and decided to watch it. Yes, it was a brutal three hours, but the acting was superb. Foxx seemed to slide naturally into each personification of the character’s transformation from slave, to freeman, to bounty hunter, to slave master—all to  accomplish his ultimate goal. Christoph Waltz’s role was a nice surprise, while the rest of the cast performed well. Leonard DiCaprio, as the plantation owner, was perfectly despicable.

Racism:

Despite adoring Sydney Poitier and seeing many of his movies, “In the Heat of the Night” was still on my “to watch” list. Filmed in 1967, it has aged well. Poitier and Steiger are beyond excellent and the story is told brilliantly. The most difficult part of watching this movie? Knowing that there was been such little progress in combating racisim since then.

Genocide:

“In Trees of Peace” racism is taken to the level of genocide. Four women take refuge in a tiny cellar. They are effectively imprisoned because the trapdoor locked behind them. Rain pours in through the small opening at ground level as well as piss as men relieve themselves. Screams and pleas and gun-fire assault their ears. They fight, they teach each other, they learn, they are resilient. The husband of the woman who owns the house brings them food and water and tells them that if they leave they will surely be killed. Canadian commander Romeo Dallaire, working for the UN, came close to committing suicide after enduringthose three months of butchering with his hands tied by the US who repeatedly denied his requests for permission to act.. On a more positive note, Rwanda now has the highest representation of female parliamentarians in the world—56%.

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A whole new world

Never having been a major fan of television, I wasn’t interested in this bandwagon called “streaming” that everyone seemed to be on.

Then we bought a Roku and less than a year later, I’m on that bandwagon too. I’ve even adopted binge watching.

The benefits, in my mind, come with the opportunity for insights to a world out there that is not dominated by the North American point of view with the added bonus of each countries’ filming style—most often more subtle and nuanced.

Here are just a few examples of the many we have been enjoying:

Culture

Good Karma Hospital – India –  Set in a South Indian hospital the show is loved for its drama, cast and  scenery. But, the beauty of the show is in the realism. It never sugar coats the devastation of poverty, the dangers women face, etc.

Ethos – Turkey – This series which takes place in Istanbul  has caused much discussion in Turkish intellectual circles, with its examination of rich and poor.

My Father’s Violin – Turkey – Through their shared grief and connection to music, an orphaned girl bonds with her emotionally aloof, successful violinist uncle.

Comedy

Rita – Denmark – Rita Madsen is an unconventional secondary education teacher who, according to her, chose this profession “to protect students from their parents”. While she goes out of her way to advise and help her pupils, Rita’s personal and family life seems to need the same kind of assistance.

Call my Agent – France – The series depicts talent agents at the fictional agency ASK (Agence Samuel Kerr) and their relationships with their actor clients, who are often real French celebrities playing themselves.

800 Words – New Zealand – After George’s wife dies, he buys (over the internet and unseen) a new home in a (fictional) small New Zealand seaside town called Weld, where his parents took him on holiday as a child. He then has to break the news to his two teenage children, Shay and Arlo. But the colourful and inquisitive locals in Weld ensure Turner’s dream of a fresh start does not go exactly to plan.[

Political

Servant of the People – Ukraine –  After a Ukrainian high school teacher’s tirade against government corruption goes viral on social media, he finds himself elected the country’s new president. (Starring Zelinsky, who produced the series.)

Borgen – Denmark – A political drama about a prime minister’s rise to power, and how power changes a prime minister.

Crime/Thriller

Lupin – France – The show stars Omar Sy in the role of Assane Diop, a man who is inspired by the adventures of master thief Arsène Lupin, a character created by novelist Maurice Leblanc in the early 1900s.

Wrong Side of the Tracks – Spain – The show centers around the complex relationship of ex-army captain Tirso Abantos and his granddaughter Irene, who gets involved with the local drug dealer Sandro. The series progresses through the threats Tirso, Irene, and their acquaintances face when the former soldier sets out to annihilate Sandro’s kingdom.   

I’d love to hear about other foreign shows you would recommend.

Ghost Boys – Jewell Parker Rhodes

I’m hesitant to comment on “Ghost Boys” as I’m not black and I don’t live in the US. Nor am I trying to raise a black child in the gun-riddled atmosphere of our southern neighbors.

Instead I will look at the book from the point of view of a junior high teacher—ie grades 7 to 9—“Ghost Boys” target audience.

I believe Parker Rhodes has created an effective message by showing the effects of racism through the eyes of the murdered child. He sees that the act of his murder affects not only his family, but the community and the family of the policeman who killed him. He also sees how his death connects to all those that came before.

I’d love to talk to black students who have read the book and learn what they think of the story and how reading it impacts them.

BLURB

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.

Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today’s world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.

Jamila – Chingiz Aitmatov

This story, so simply told, manages to capture your heart. The characters, sustained by love, are determined to survive backbreaking work in brutal times. That they do is rather miraculous. We rejoice for them as Aitmatov immerses his readers in the land and culture and lives of these people.

The translation is rough in spots and a bit distracting, but the beauty of the story more than compensates for that.

GOODREADS:

“Jamilia” is told from the point of view of a fictional Kyrgyz artist, Seit, who tells the story by looking back on his childhood. The story recounts the love between his new sister-in-law Jamilia and a local crippled young man, Daniyar, while Jamilia’s husband, Sadyk, is away at the front during World War II.

Based on clues in the story, it takes place in northwestern Kyrgyzstan, presumably Talas Province. The story is backdropped against the collective farming culture which was early in its peak in that period.

Chingiz Aïtmatov was born in Kyrgyzstan in 1928. He lived at a time when Kyrgyzstan was being transformed from one of the most remote lands of the Russian Empire to a republic of the USSR. His work appeared in over one hundred languages, and received numerous awards, including the Lenin Prize. He was the Kyrgyz ambassador to the European Union, NATO, UNESCO and the Benelux countries.

Her Last Flight – Beatriz Williams

This book is not based on Amelia Earhart. Rather, it’s built on Williams’ fascination with Earhart that lead her to develop the story built on her research of the men and women who pioneered flying.

The fascination with flying in those early days, the courage and daring of the pilots, the development of the planes themselves, the high cost of fame… Williams captures it all beautifully with some surprising—but perfect for the story—twists.

BLURB

In 1947, photographer and war correspondent Janey Everett arrives at a remote surfing village on the Hawaiian island of Kauai to research a planned biography of forgotten aviation pioneer Sam Mallory, who joined the loyalist forces in the Spanish Civil War and never returned. Obsessed with Sam’s fate, Janey has tracked down Irene Lindquist, the owner of a local island-hopping airline, whom she believes might actually be the legendary Irene Foster, Mallory’s onetime student and flying partner. Foster’s disappearance during a round-the-world flight in 1937 remains one of the world’s greatest unsolved mysteries. 

At first, the flinty Mrs. Lindquist denies any connection to Foster. But Janey informs her that the wreck of Sam Mallory’s airplane has recently been discovered in a Spanish desert, and piece by piece, the details of Foster’s extraordinary life emerge: from the beginnings of her flying career in Southern California, to her complicated, passionate relationship with Mallory, to the collapse of her marriage to her aggressive career manager, the publishing scion George Morrow.

As Irene spins her tale to its searing conclusion, Janey’s past gathers its own power. The duel between the two women takes a heartstopping turn. To whom does Mallory rightfully belong? Can we ever come to terms with the loss of those we love, and the lives we might have lived?

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