Oran – The Library

Slowly, but bit by bit, we’re getting to know more of our new home. Today, we had the vague plan to spend the day excursing. We ended up figuring out how to use the local tram, and bought an enormous scratching post for our felines. However, we also managed to visit the library. Actually, according to my guidebook, The City Library.

Waving down a taxi was easy, but telling the driver in my limited French we wanted to go to La bibliotheque (not la librairie – that’d be bookshop) was a wee bit trickier. He understood the words, but didn’t seem to know the place. So I resorted to pointing to the picture in my guidebook: oui, la cathédrale!entranceThe building used to be a cathedral, and it’s actually also not that old. So we got there, and then we were a bit uncertain if we’d be allowed to sneak a view and maybe a photo of the interior. No problem at all!

As you can see, it is a bit different. Although it was very unlike what I had imagined, after a few minutes in there I could see the charming side of the place. Some people were reading, some had a look around like us, some were just chatting and having a good time.

The books were an extremely intriguing and eclectic collection. Mr Feynman’s collected lectures on quantum physics were totally unexpected, especially with the low-tech filing system at hand.

I felt it was half an hour well-spent. This library (I don’t know if there are others) is quite out-of-the-way for us, but if I lived anywhere close by, I’d visit there regularly. And for those among you who can read Arabic, here’s a bit more information.history

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WorldBookProject – Dipping into Corvids, History, and Art

The eagle-eyed among you might already have noticed that there’s a new feature on the blog: reading through the ages. Of course, WorldBookProject is still going on, but I’ve only just over 100 books / places left to read. Hence my idea of doing something really long-term once I’ve read all the territories on my list. For now, here are the books I’ve read for WBP in the second half of August.

144 First Nations: Joanne Arnott – the family of crow

Long-standing readers of this blog will be aware that I love birds, and corvids are a particular favourite of mine. So it’ll come as no surprise that I was happy to come across this neat collection of crow-related poems and art. It describes the life cycle of the birds in an artistic way and builds bridges that reach as far as Ancient China (http://www.chinese-poems.com/lb13.html). A gem.

145 Jordan: Suleiman Mousa – T.E. Lawrence: An Arab View

If you have a larger-than-life figure like Lawrence, it is really tricky to get through all the layers of legend (or lies) down to what might be called reality. The book did so when it came to all the battles and skirmishes (where Lawrence apparently managed to shoot his camel and knock himself unconscious). However, I still feel no connection to the person behind the sagas. But I do have the feeling that this book makes a better attempt to unravel the mystery than any try from Hollywood.

146 Qatar:  Sophia Al-Maria – Fresh Hell

Hm. Well. I don’t really know … This book was odd. Double pages where women spread their legs, followed by an artist explaining why this wasn’t pornography, were then followed by a poignant account of the horrors of the First Gulf War. Several of the essays and visual expressions connected the topic of oil, and the environmental and social disasters it brought with it. I’m not a very ‘arty’ person, but I agree that ‘survival is not sufficient‘ – and this book fits the bill.

 

Bath – Between the Romans, Art and Astronomy

Thanks to two lovely Scottish ladies I spent a wonderful day in Bath.  There’s so much to see and do that this was really just a taster. Foodwise, by the way, I can highly recommend Comptoir Libanais.

Bath is town full of art and a wide range of architecture. The most famous architectural style is Georgian, like the Circus. The city centre is a world heritage site.

Bath is also the only place in the UK with natural hot springs. It’s possible to go into one of the spas (which I didn’t), or to see how the old Romans did it (which I did). What I admired most at the baths in Bath, however, was a relic of Sulis Minerva, goddess of the hot springs.

My personal highlight was somewhat off the beaten track. Welcome to the Herschel house! Caroline and William Herschel were two astronomers who were famous for their telescopes with home-polished mirrors, and comet hunting. If you feel like walking in their footsteps, you can be a citizen scientist and help with one of the astronomy projects on the Zooniverse platform.

WorldBookProject – Read Women and Women in Translation

About a year and a half ago, when I started my project to read the world, I had no idea about the imbalance in the translation of non-anglophone female/male writers.  Or indeed the imbalance between published male/female anglophone authors. Then I came across this blog post https://womenintranslation.com/ 58 and decided to look into my own reading habits. Since then I’ve tried to read an equal number of books by male and female authors (I have yet to find an author who identifies as non-binary).

So, how am I doing? Out of the 143 books I’ve read so far there were 58 books written by women (40%), 10 have mixed authorship (6%), and there was one book were the authors were unknown. That makes me look a lot better than the anglophone publishing industry, but there’s still some room for improvement.

141 Guadeloupe: Maryse Condé – I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem

This.Is.Mindblowingly.Good. It is also brutal, painful, and violent. The main themes are misogyny, racism, and religious hypocrisy. Still, I was drawn into the main character’s life and it was difficult to let go. I’ve since read another short story by the same author, and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading much more by her.

142 Philippines: Jessica Hagedorn (ed) – Manila Noir

I listened to these short stories as an audiobook. They were read by Tez Bois and Ramon De Ocampo. Both did a good job and made the gruesome stories come to life. Again, this was a book with a lot of (sexual) violence in it. However, and I think this is a hallmark of good short stories, they mostly had a really surprising twist. Quite a number also figured transgender characters, which was interesting.

143 Swaziland: Sarah Mkhonza – What the Future Holds

I really like a character in a story who does something not in line with tradition and gets away with it. This is not giving away the denouement – we as readers know this from the first chapter of this book. Which also might have not been the best idea on the part of the writer, but maybe this is because it’s a debut novel. Anyway, seeing the main character grow and grow up and fight for her identity and place in life made me really root for her. Again, this is another writer to explore further.

WorldBookProject – Revolution, Archaeology and Pain

First of all, August is coming – and August is #WITmonth. That’s #womenintranslation for the uninitiated, and I’m planning to participate and to read translated books by female authors. Of course, I’ll try to choose books from places which #WorldBookProject hasn’t covered yet.

On matters closer at hand, this post deals with more books from or about dependent territories and issues stemming from colonialism. Since I’m probably not the only one who is mildly geographically challenged, here’s the quick explainer: the Cocos Islands are a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean, Guam is a territory of the USA in the Pacific Ocean, and the Republic of Guinea is a West-African country and not to be confused with Guinea-Bisseau or Equatorial Guinea.

138  Cocos (Keeling) Islands: Pat Linford – The Coconut Revolution

I found this book a typical self-published oddity. It dealt with the author and her husband’s experience during the transfer of the islands from a British colonial system to Australia. The self-proclaimed king and his dynasty of Scottish-Malay ancestry, the family Clunies-Ross, featured heavily. There were lots of typos and grammatical errors which took the joy out of reading.

139 Guam: Mike T. Carson – Guam’s hidden gem: archaeological and historical studies at Ritidian

Yes, this was a gem. Imagine you’re the poor sod who has to shift excavated soil from 77 holes, each at least 1m³, through a 1mm mesh. Reading academic articles can actually be fascinating (or a bit masochistic) when you come to the methodology. I learned about Near and Remote Oceania, the brutal deaths of missionaries and how the archaeologists work together with environmental agencies to protect the Guam National Wildlife Refuge.

140 Guinea: Tierno Monénembo – The Bush Toads

This is in all likelihood one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read, but it’s also very well crafted. The pain, anger, fear and hate the characters felt came truly to live. That made it also rather difficult to read, but then I didn’t set out to read around the world to make life easier. It’s definitely an author I’d love to explore further (this was his first book, published almost 40 years ago), and if you want to read it – there’s a ray of sunshine at the end.

Daniel Barenboim’s Proms Speech

This post originally appeared on the In The Dark blog. I agree wholeheartedly with both the telescoper and Barenboim.

In the Dark

Daniel Barenboim made this wonderful speech at the BBC Proms at the weekend. It seems to have annoyed some people who get annoyed when someone expresses something that doesn’t fit in their own narrow minds, and does it with grace, eloquence and great dignity. I’m posting it here to annoy such people still further. It’s no more than they deserve.

And here is the encore that followed the speech – Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance  March No. 1 – in full. It’s a piece I usually hate. This was the first time in my whole life that I’ve actually enjoyed it.

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WorldBookProject – Yet more island cruising

WorldBookProject is still visiting some overseas territories, dependencies and territories which are claimed or contested. A lot of these places are not permanently inhabited, but provide space for a research station or a military outpost. In other territories the number of inhabitants is so small that nobody has as yet put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and written a book. That’s the reason why many of the books I’ve read to represent these places were written by authors from somewhere else.

133 Bouvet Island:  Geoffrey Jenkins –  A Grue of Ice

This felt a bit like James Bond goes Antarctica. The characters were clear-cut into good guys and baddies and thus utterly boring. However, the scenery provided by icebergs and glaciers was stunning, I had a chance to brush up on inorganic chemistry in a fun way, and there were some pretty good action scenes.

134 Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: Alice Joseph and Veronica F. Murray – Chamorros and Carolinians of Saipan: Personality Studies

At the beginning of the 1950s, the two authors wrote up their psychological explorations of the people of Saipan. If you’re interested in Rorschach, Bender gestalt or IQ tests, this book is for you. I have to admit that I find all this a bit dodgy, but then I’m not a psychologist. For me, it was most interesting to learn that the islands were under German occupation at the beginning of the 20th century. Compared to the Spanish rule before and the Japanese and American after, people told the authors that they were pining for the good old days under the Kaiser.

135 Jan Mayen: Johannes Lid and Dagny Tande Lid – The flora of Jan Mayen

20 years ago, when I had just failed abysmally badly in a botany exam at uni who would have thought that one day I would read a book about botany? Certainly not me. However, going down memory lane with this piece of writing was quite fun. Most impressive however, was the author’s determination not to translate any of the quotes he used in the text. Hence, this book came in English, German, French, Latin, and Norwegian. I dealt more or less successfully with four of the languages, but had to give up on the Latin parts.

136 Overseas Collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon: William F. Rannie  – Saint Pierre and Miquelon

This was a very good overview of what is a group of islands near Canada, but actually part of France proper. Most interesting fact: During Prohibition, the islands were THE hub for liquor trade or smuggling, depending on your perspective.

137 Territory of Christmas Island: Margaret Neale – We were the Christmas Islanders

The author collected people’s memories of living on the island, which was usually only a few years. People from China or Malaysia would work in phosphate mining, white people (usually British) ruled. After the island became Australian, things changed extremely slowly, while racism and discrimination were rife. The silver lining: the annual crab migration.