Sunday, August 31, 2014

Advertisements during the Pope’s Funeral

Václav Havel, Washington, April 9, 2005

Yesterday I watched the pope’s [John Paul II] funeral on television. It was a grand and moving spectacle. I knew the pope, and I’d even dare say that we were friends, and perhaps for that very reason I was incapable of experiencing any great sorrow at his death. The thing is, I had a visceral feeling that, with great peace in his soul, he was departing for a place he knew he was going to, a good place. But America is a rather odd country. It’s very religious, and at the same time it allows the broadcast of the pope’s funeral to be interrupted by advertisements, many of which were the direct embodiment of what he had criticized for his entire life. I found it truly hard to understand, and it made me more and more uncomfortable, until I finally switched the television off.

To the Castle and Back, Václav Havel, translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson, 2007, p. 20

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Final Ride by LeAnn Bednar

I thought I'd have to push myself to read this book about a Teton Valley man's ride along the Great Western Trail after he's diagnosed with cancer. I was wrong, though. I found it fascinating. Written in first-person by Chuck Christensen's daughter from his journals, newspaper articles, and interviews with people who rode with him, it's a day-by-day account of his two-part journey. Part one is from Teton Valley, Idaho to the Mexico border and part two is from Teton Valley to the Canada border a couple of years later.

About halfway through the book, I suddenly realized that I know one of his daughters and a couple of his grandkids and I've met his wife a few times, which made the book even more enjoyable. I'm pretty sure I know others of his relatives, but the family trees in these parts, while well-known to the locals, are confusing and complex and have taken me years to even begin to understand and remember. But even before I recognized the connection, I was riveted.

I learned a lot about traveling with mules and horses and how it's different from backpacking. Apparently, there's a special bond between mule and horse people, and it was moving to read about the help Chuck received from people along the way who didn't know anything about him except that he was traveling with mules and horses. As a sometime hiker and backpacker, it was interesting to read about wilderness travel from a different perspective. Also, if I ever meet up with a horse- or mule-rider on a precipitous mountain trail like you might find in the Grand Canyon, I will be very still and quiet as they pass. Just FYI.

I loved this book about a tenacious man who rode through pain and discomfort like I've never experienced. Chuck is a fascinating character -- thoughtful, educated, curious, stubborn, tough. There are so many different kinds of people in the world, and I was glad to learn about this one.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley

Even though we home school, I found a lot of fascinating stuff in this book that looks at public education in the U.S. and in three countries whose 15-year-olds test much higher than ours do: South Korea, Finland, and Poland. Some things that matter: rigor, high expectations, well-trained teachers. Some things that don't matter so much: money, high-tech gadgetry, sports programs. There's much more to it than that, of course. The tone is hopeful and doesn't condemn American education, just gives some good ideas. And even though the three featured countries test high, the author shows the limitations of their schools, as well. (South Korea is particularly ... uh, interesting. Yes, let's go with that adjective.) That's a pretty lame summary, but I loved this book and highly recommend it to everyone.

By the way, at least 2/3 of my kids said to me while I was reading this, "Oh, you're reading a book about us!" They are so funny.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Plovdiv, Bulgaria Memorial complex Hillock of fraternity

Plovdiv was a Thracian city before it became a Greek city around 340 BC. (See the Wikipedia Plovdiv page for more history.) There is an impressive Communist-era concrete monument in Plovdiv which I only saw a few weeks before we moved away. I went will Lillian and Seth. The OpenBuildings page on Memorial complex Hillock of fraternity describes it this way:

The “Hillock of fraternity” monument symbolizes a Thracian hillock. It reminds of a stone wreath from above. A 90m long sculpture composition inside the monument is dedicated to the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule, the The Unification of Bulgaria, the Bulgarian partisan movement and “the victory of socialism” in 1944. Bones of partisans from Plovdiv region were placed inside the memorial complex, once it was finished. It was inaugurated on 9 September 1974 by the party leader Todor Zhivkov in honor of the 30th anniversary of the “socialist revolution” in Bulgaria. There were plans to connect the “Hillock of fraternity” memorial to the Soviet army monument [colloquially known as “Aliosha” on the nearby hill Bunardjika / Бунарджика], through a spacious boulevard which would then be used to perform “festive rituals”.

It's a neat place to visit. Some of the statues have the same aesthetic as a certain style of Nativity scene, which I'm sure some of its creators would be unhappy to hear me say. It is locked, presumably to try to reduce damage and theft of things inside.

It is right next to the new Mall Plovdiv:

Further photos and explanation of the area are in these three websites: Forgotten Monuments From the Communist Era in Bulgaria, Commie Travels' Bulgaria page, and Nikola Mihov's Forget Your Past.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Age of Discretion by Simone de Beauvoir

Is there such a thing as a "long story"? Because this seems like one. My experience reading it was a little odd. I had never read anything by Simone de Beauvoir and this was in a collection we've had on our shelves for many years. I read about half of it and found myself annoyed with the protagonist, who seemed spoiled, whiney, and a brat, even though she's a mature, successful, happily married literature professor. So I put it down for quite a while, several months. Unfortunately, it's pretty common for me to put books aside these days. Some I end up finishing eventually and others not. But they all stay on my bedside table for months, just in case I get the urge to return to one of them.

Yesterday morning, I thought I'd give the woman another chance (the character in the story, not necessarily Simone de Beauvoir). And unexpectedly, I could suddenly relate to her. The first part of the story, the part I read several months ago, is about how disappointed and angry she becomes with her adult son when he decides to change his career to something she and her husband disapprove of. She stops speaking to him completely. Then, when her latest book comes out and the reviews are bad, she goes through some serious doubts and self-reflection. In the last part, which I just read, she is despondent and starts to feel like everything is doomed, including her marriage. Her husband helps her out of this despondency, though not deliberately, and the end is pretty uplifting.

During part two of my reading, she seemed like an honest and complex woman. I wonder if my expectations were different each time. Maybe at first I was hoping to learn something from an older female character in a story by a famous feminist author, and then later, when I returned to it, I didn't expect that anymore, so I could read about her inner life with less judgment and expectation. And then I appreciated the brutal honesty of her thought process. After all, I'm fairly sure if someone recorded my thoughts with great detail, I'd come across as similarly moody, maybe even a bit crazy.

I also really liked the depiction of her marriage. She and her husband support and love each other, but they still have misunderstandings and arguments that they work to resolve.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Wind River Range Little Seneca Lake

This past Friday and Saturday, Jacob and I backpacked in Wyoming's Wind River Range. It took 2.5 hours to drive from our house to the Elkhart Park Pole Creek trail head, near Pinedale, Wyoming. On the way in we went via Photographers Point, which has amazing views of a lake and the mountains to the north. We hiked 10.5 miles on Friday to Little Seneca Lake and camped there, at probably the only place it was possible to camp since it was so rocky. The next day on the way out we took an alternate route and went past Sweeney Lakes and Miller Lake, which made the trip out about 11 miles.

It was beautiful, with mild temperatures and a few brief rain showers on Friday. We encountered a lot of people on the trail (we counted 104 people on Friday and 56 on Saturday), but we still sometimes went an hour or two without seeing any other people and it didn't feel crowded. The trails were in good shape, and our map (Wind River Range North from Beartooth Publishing) and the occasional signs on the trails made it easy to navigate.

As the guidebooks warn, there were a lot of mosquitoes during the day. The early morning and late evening were blissfully free of them, but we got a lot of bites during the day even though we were mostly clothed and used DEET insect repellent.

I already had some blisters on my heels from a hike earlier in the week, and came out with more blisters on my toes. I'm a little sore and tired, but it was a great hike and I look forward to going back in less than two weeks with some of the young men from our ward.