The Good Life and The War

To be honest I didn't like The Sun Also Rises at first: it was a bore. The part about Paris was a bore. It was all about the hullaballoo of Parisian expat life, with Jake Barnes in the middle of it all. I noticed that  in this book Hemingway is indulgent in his writing. I've never seen his writing as indulgent and as drunk: it's all about dinner, apertifs, fines and wines, and then there's Lady Brett Ashley and the friends Jake has--characters which didn't really stick much, both in the narrative (they all come and go) and in the characterization as well.

At some point I tried not to mind about the names, since maybe it was not about their names, or their professions, or the character in general. I tried not knowing if it's Mike or Harris or Bill. I began to read it as an exercise Hemingway wanted to do, writing about his interests, from bull-fighting to drinking to fishing. He wanted to write it as simple as possible, without much poignant details, adverbs or colorful turn-of-phrases. The sentences are flat, unadorned, but nevertheless effective.

When he writes about his interests, that's where the prose glimmers: they have the best and the most incisive details, and they are almost unforgettable. During the excursion to Pamplona for the Festival of San Fermin, the book becomes magnetic. The scenes become festive and rowdy despite the rather sparing sentences. Squabbles began, and the bull-fighting began. Dialogues were better.

As one of his earlier novels, Hemingway has already mastered writing his sentences here. He has already developed the skill on how to handle their weight, impact and finality. Knowing that his reader expects something at the end of a chapter, he manipulates the dialogue and tries to make it abrupt.

In one of the earlier scenes in Pamplona during the fiesta, Mike had been drinking too much after his lover, Brett, went away with this 19-year old matador, Romero. To put it simply, she was fascinated with Romero's passion for bullfighting.[1] Bill and Jake have just left Mike's room, and is overhearing Mike's orders to the chambermaid.

He rang the bell and the chambermaid came and knocked at the door.
"Bring up half a dozen bottles of beer and bottle of Fundador," Mike told her.
"Si, senorito."
"I'm going to bed," Bill said. "Poor old Mike. I had a hell of a row about him last night."
"Where? At that Milano place?"
"Yes. There was a fellow there that had helped pay Brett and Mike out of Cannes, once. He was damned nasty."
"I know the story."
"I didn't. Nobody ought to have a right to say things about Mike."
"That's what makes it bad."
"They oughtn't to have any right. I wish to hell they didn't have any right. I'm going to bed."
"Was anybody killed in the ring?"
"I don't think so. Just badly hurt."
"A man was killed outside in the runway."
"Was there?" said Bill. [p. 208]
There's the wonderful realization-cum-interruption in Paris, when Cohn was with his wife.

"Yes, about my going to England. Oh, Jake! I forgot to tell you. I'm going to England."
"Isn't that fine!"
"Yes, that's the way it's done in the very best families Robert's sending me. He's going to give me two hundred pounds and then I'm going to visit friends. Won't it be lovely? The friends don't know about it, yet."
She turned to Cohn and smiled at him. He was not smiling now.
"You were only going to give me a hundred pounds, weren't you, Robert? But I made him give me two hundred. He's really very generous. Aren't you, Robert?"
I do not know how people could say such terrible things to Robert Cohn. There are people to whom you could not say insulting things. They give you a feeling that the world would be destroyed, would actually be destroyed before your eyes, if you said certain things. But here was Cohn taking it all. Here it was, all going on right before me, and I did not ever feel an impulse to try and stop it." [pp. 55-56]
The interruption on the dialogue between Cohn and his wife makes me think that this is one of Hemingway's truest voice, to the point that I've already intuited that this is a roman a clef. For its conviction it's natural to confuse the voice of Jake Barnes with Hemingway's, not only because of this authorial intervention, but because Jake, the narrator, and Hemingway, thinks the same thought at the same time. It's rational and very detached ("and I did not ever feel an impulse to try and stop it"), and it was refreshing to read from his usual stories.

This interruption signaled a great barrage of confrontations Frances made that day towards Cohn, almost all of them cloaked in sarcasm. ("Well, I suppose that we that live by the sword shall perish by the sword. Isn't that literary, though? You want to remember that for your next book, Robert." [p. 57])

In this list of scathing reviews from book reviewers in Amazon, the review for this book rings somehow rings true, but it disregards the context. Note that this is written in the 1920s and that Hemingway had just come out of the First World War, and it's a time of much needed realization on what to do next. It may be a stretch to say that the context can clearly be something of a post-traumatic disorder (rendering Jake "impotent" throughout the book, for example) after being in the front lines of war, but somehow, the plot being secure and happy-go-lucky life drives these characters nuts, I think it's a good assertion. It's not a downright disturbing book, but with each character's loss of direction comes the realization that maybe something beyond the text--something left unsaid, something within the bigger context of things--should have disturbed them.

[1] Somewhere in those chapters set in Pamplona, there's a lengthy and very passionate explanation on Romero's exceptional handling and skill, which reads like a criticism coming from an enthusiast like Hemingway.

The Flipout

I was sitting on one of those modern benches in Ayala Triangle, reading Etgar Keret's The Nimrod Flipout while smoking, feeling lucky enough to have found it on Booksale for 75 pesos, and also lucky to have signed a job offer from a good advertising agency. My back was aching thanks to these benches without any back support, probably to discourage people like me to lie down with my mineral water and my backpack and listen to sleazy music and doze off eventually. I heard the noise of roller skates and find the pair of its front wheels glimmer with different colors, and looked up from my book to find a boy of about four years old, his knees wobbly from a fall. He was wearing a helmet, knee and elbow protectors. It looked like it wasn't painful. He was trying to stand up from a supine position, but he couldn't raise himself up. His roller skates won't make him stand up. He was with his mother and a yaya not too far away, and when the mother approached, the boy reached out his hand for help, but the mother refused to. The yaya then decided to reach out but the mother hissed and shooed her away, discouraging her to do it again, in another language. I was taken aback by this, and wasn't pretending to read the book anymore. The child then tried standing up from other positions, but staggered as well. When the kid was able to stand up all by himself, the mother burst into clapping, cheering him up for a good job, all this in another language, probably Chinese. Her yaya followed suit and clapped. I returned to my reading and knew I had to write this down somewhere, and remember this very risk I've made to get this new job, as I am on probation, again, just like my first six months in my current job. My wife thinks I'm nuts to file the resignation letter last Monday. I think I'm just as nuts as Ron, Uzi and Miron in Keret's flagship short story, but a little uncertainty is fine. Later, the boy was striding around the park, getting glances and stares from men in business attire, smiling at him. The mother and the yaya still followed him from far away. It was getting dark when I left.

NHK

Sunday night I was watching NHK with my wife, my Dad, and my son strutting in his walker. My father likes watching NHK since they showcase life that's just spartan, zen and--come to think of it, most of the shows are about septuagenarians! (My dad has just reached his sixties and very strong. All of my friends thinks he looks like in his forties. He's just stocky, that's all.) It must have been that desire to live life after retirement, as he's been planning to do in the next two years.

The show was about these two lanky twenty-something guys who went to this remote Japanese island (probably near Okinawa since it's quite tropical) to do an immersion with the locals. The culture in the island is to grow persimmons, gather turban shells and seaweed from the shore--all of which they cook in the afternoons. The panoramic shots of the camera takes us to breathtaking scenes of relatively undisturbed flora and fauna.

While watching this, I was helping myself with what seemed to be remains of a tub of pistachio (my wife likes pistachio, despite our inclination for double dutch) and my Dad was making fun of basically everybody in the show, and most of his jokes are bordering on dark humor. But it still is funny. My son was laughing with us, commiserating, his cheeks very full. My wife was laughing hard as well.

After having been immersed from the food and culture of this faraway island, these two guys have to utilize the food sources they have and rehash it to create new dishes. Dad has no idea about the show's title, but that's the premise: they cook things that the locals have never thought of. He has watched it several times, he said, and he really likes the show. "They even have this wagon to cook in," he said, and it looked like those food trucks in California.

At one point, the two guys visit a house where a grey-haired woman lives, and she retold the story of how her husband died in the sea. It was an accident of some sort which had something to do with the boat the husband made years before. Her husband, as he had been wont to do before, left a scroll with Japanese characters written over it. "He wrote this before he died," the woman said, and basically these are his last words. The caption reads something about the weather, remarks about fishing and the sea, and the last sentence, which saddened me: I got some of your rice balls.

I told my wife how unbelievable it was to be left with a weathered scroll and all these characters summing up a mundane scenario, and the last sentence had to do with telling your wife that you have the rice balls she made for lunch. She laughed again, and I laughed again, but this time disappointed about the entire NHK program. In all fairness, NHK does a really good job in promoting Japanese culture, to the point that it's just plain unfair for a Filipino to watch their shows. It always leaves me pining for a good life.

July and alcohol

  1. I figured that the nearest bar is about ten minutes away from the office and the train station, so I reasoned to myself that it wouldn't really hurt to have a single shot of coke and rum. I try to engage myself in this conversation: so the best option I have, since I'm drinking alone, is to lounge outside the bar and just stand there, drink my shot, smoke some cigarettes, leave my payment under the glass, and leave. 
  2. Then I thought better, as I didn't want to go inside and end up brushing elbows with strangers who would probably whisper to each other and surmise the purpose of my drinking alone on a Friday night, while raining hard. It's a breeding ground for losers, they would say. Since it was raining hard, it would leave me no option but to stay inside, so I decided not to.
  3. M asked me to call him in the peak hours of my work. I said I didn't have much load, so he should probably make the call. He did, after some two minutes, and he unloaded his burden: his girlfriend broke up with him for shady reasons (shady because it involves the girlfriend's mom, which doesn't approve of him). 
  4. I asked him if he could talk privately. "I'm in the quiet room," he said, and when asked about the training: "I just can't concentrate well." 
  5. Since he's currently a trainee he can't risk to leave the office and drink with his desperate friend. Yes, I insinuated the drinking, thinking that this time, I could just do a half-day at work and have the reason to drink, but he didn't buy it.
  6. At Jollibee we met the next morning and bought him breakfast. He wasn't that hungry, and during the conversation I tried my best to look away from him, perhaps thinking that he is teary-eyed. I'm dull during mornings; that's just too much emotion to handle over breakfast.
  7. His salary was delayed; I ordered him the one-piece chicken joy gratis. I was surprised that at the end of our conversation, he didn't finish the meal; and then we talked about their sex life. 
  8. Regarding sex life, I was very serious about it: have you had sex with her? He chuckled as it was his first time, and he said yes, twice, and then there was an extensive discussion on what those bases mean, and later on I thought, is that an import from baseball? Is sex a sport? Now it occurred to me to read James Salter's "A Sport and A Pastime".
  9. I admit that lately I've been meaning to use any spare time to drink with someone. I don't drink alone. Lately I've been bugging some friends and ask them every now and then if they're good on a specific date, but usually I text them on short notice. Of course they decline.
  10. Some three weeks ago I went to a christening event of this particular friend's son, and of course there was beer and videoke. I just drank one and really missed the flavor. We whiled away the hours talking about college, and the friends of their friends. This meant I've been missing a lot of things, but there's plenty of time.

Five pictures

While having a quick chat, D sent me some pictures from her old cellphone. It's too much to ask, really, since she's sending these large JPEGs through bluetooth, but at some point she also wanted to do it for the sake of nostalgia and the vastly commemorative weekly event that is Throwback Thursday.

In the span of five pictures the night unfolds. I am wearing a blue-green shirt from years ago, sitting besides D and her haircut from college. D and I were very high on weed. Our eyes were puffed and bloodshot. We were eating outside this bar near the campus, in this tapsilugan which, I've discovered some couple of months ago, has already closed for good. During those years it runs from 6PM to 3AM and is a haven for drunkards and potheads. The staff are very tolerant about it. Though there's always too much butter on rice and too much oil used in frying the meat, at least they don't scrimp on serving Del Monte tomato ketchup bottles for meals.

Why do you have these pictures? I asked D online. She said she wanted to document her first high.

The pictures are very animated: there is an uncontrollable fit of laughter. We looked stupid all the time. In one of the pictures, R appears. I realized that all the while R was taking these pictures. These are meant to make us look stupid, make us look like we think everything's funny and simple.

The nostalgia is overwhelming. I can almost hear the distant bar music, the garbled conversations, the quick swats on mosquitoes biting our legs.

In one of the pictures, I was pinpointing at the tapsilog I was eating. I have a vague memory of what's funny about the food, but it probably morphed into something that drove me nuts.

In another picture we were eating ravenously, the food bursting from our mouths.

When viewing pictures like these I think I've enjoyed my life.