Books

A quiet place to sit

Not very often we find a place where we can gather our thoughts, find solace, have a cup of coffee and browse through an impressive collection of literature – fiction and non fiction. After visiting Auschwitz, I came back to Krakow in the evening and wanted to be at a place that can give me silence for some time. My hostel wasn’t conducive of such ambience so I walked a little south west of my location across the Planty park and reached Massolit books and cafe at Felicjanek 4/2. I entered the quiet bookstore and strolled around, a few people were browsing, a few talking, and a few were working on their computers as in any coffee shop in a big city of USA. I ordered a latte and seated myself in a corner seat besides an old woman who most probably was a teacher and was correcting papers and was nodding her head in disappointment while embellishing the answer sheets in big red circles. IMG_20180609_185244

A few days ago I was in Nordisk Museet in Stockholm and learned about the concept of lighting the spaces and how optics and light designers have revolutionized the concept and the device itself. The Scandinavian region doesn’t get a lot of light for a large part of the year, so artificial lighting is the key but the fundamental principle is to have a smooth transition between darkness and light or vice versa and create an environment that is cosy, comfortable, and makes you calm. While I was sitting there, I could feel those principles in application.

The books on the table in front were the ones which I won’t generally find in your around the corner bookstore unless I go to City lights in San Francisco. Apart from that, the old and used tables here have a charm that needs to be enjoyed again whenever I find myself in Kraków.

 

Advertisements

Guy De Maupassant

Guy de Maupassant can easily be one of the best short story writers that existed on the face of the earth. But as all talented people aren’t perceived normal in society’s eyes, so was he. Maupassant swayed between happiness and sorrow, Emile Zola used to say that he is happiest of the unhappiest people on earth.

After serving in the Franco-Prussian war he spent most of his free time in writing stories and meeting women from different strata of the societies, many of whom became the subject of his stories later in life. He eventually contracted syphilis which later became the cause of his death but his mood used to alter greatly because of his condition and it had an effect on his writing which would have mood swings of a human if personified. His mother had introduced him to Gustav Flaubert who had great influence on him and he urged him to pursue literature and writing on a serious note.

The admirable subjects of his writing are real as life and are taken from various walks of life and their interaction with the rest of the society. Some people could term it as vulgar but he wrote about what he knew and the audience appreciated it. The characters are not deified in his works, they have the natural tendencies and inherit the human flaws. Short stories are special; the characters, the plot, the emotions, the climax all develop simultaneously and the writer has the responsibility to do justice with each of them without considering one or the other as his/her favorite offspring and he has to execute the task in finite number of words without creating a tome. Maupassant was successful in this and that puts him in the cohort that belongs to Munshi Premchand, Anton Chekhov, Natsume Soseki, Allan Poe. He was audacious like Flaubert to write on controversial subjects that gives makes him stand in a cluster of his own.

It takes a thinking brain and strength to create Boule de Suif, Bel Ami, Une Vie, and likes of The Necklace, and Guy de Maupassant had both.

 

Scheltema – The Secret Lives of Color

Scheltema – a book store on Rokin st. near Dam Square in Amsterdam is one of the largest bookstores in Europe and the oldest in Netherlands serving the bibliophiles since 1853.IMG_20180311_122700

When I walked in, some children’s activity was going on and a few volunteers were arranging things. I was scouring for the Tulipmania by Mike Dash for I was interested in how tulips came to a level at one time that single bulb of tulip costed more than cost of a house. It mirrors today’s economy when we think of bitcoin’s surge in past few months.

I finally found it on 4th floor of the store in the history section and sat down on a cosy chair to flip through the pages. There was a lot of moving space around and the place carries the attitude of a young and confident speaker, telling stories coherently in a cogent fashion but I won’t compare it with the capitalism that Barnes and Noble brought to the world.

IMG_20180311_124013

Apart from the American Book Center on Spui 12, Scheltema is another place where one can find quality English literature in Amsterdam area.

It’s here I realized how wonderful oil pastel art can be and thus I picked a random book from the shelf named The Secret Lives of Colors. It is so interesting to see the possibility of a book on colors. Soren Kierkegaard said “Is anything more sparkling, more dizzying than the possible?”  The book provided history on many colors, how they were found, what’s the significance, which artists use them, how do they align with the values of various countries, what is/was the economic significance of certain colors. It would lead you to the paths of history where you can find yourself in the multitude of kaleidoscope of  hues and pigments. It is a compendium of answers that will establish the connections such as bard, green, and envy. I wonder what Moilere might be thinking here?

The Shakespeare of Vienna

It is humanly impossible to have all the experiences of the world (at least that’s my belief at this point of time) but the paper friends come in handy there. Books are the portals to  unknown adventures, we can live a thousand lives and experience myriad emotions at the same time. In the era of kindles and nooks there is something about the independent bookstores that allures a tumbleweed. The unkempt bookshelves with piles of books packed tightly in close quarters such that various characters and the plots can talk to each other from various stories.  Akin to vast empty space where you can drift forever or stumble upon something which will be your moment of truth, they epitomize the brain of a someone who wants to know it all but is busy scouring the pieces that are yet to be uncovered.

A week ago during a cold and wet winter evening in Vienna, I stumbled upon this bookstore – Shakespeare and Company booksellers, and was I delighted. I was roaming around the old part of the city and it started raining heavily, I took refuge under a window sill to open my bag and get umbrella out and that’s when I saw this bookstore from a distance and I knew immediately that I have to go in.

IMG_20180316_174500

 

IMG_20180316_172139

 

The charm of old bookstores is never fading, there is a sense of comfort in the ramshackle appearance and the disorganization. They are like human beings growing old over a period of time and accepting one’s flaws and being humble about it but not apologetic.

The bookstore is located on Stergasse and near Rupert’s church and Stephansplatz. The readers and writers have to go in for a time travel while walking in the labyrinth of this place on creaking wooden floors to get their dose of stimulant.

Tumbleweed

When you find yourself in unknown parts of the world, trying to finish some work assignment or a presentation while nibbling on your croissant and listening to some white noise to gain concentration,

Screen Shot 2017-12-16 at 8.32.40 PM

always try to find some time for yourself, to gather your thoughts, to introspect and retrospect, to write your thoughts down to crystallize the concoctions of your brain over a cup of coffee and to listen to some music to enjoy those stolen moments,

Untitled

 

because it is important to find your own story at the end. The story of our life to break us free from ourselves and from the tangible and intangible object, so even if our body can’t walk through walls and obstructions but our imagination and soul can.

IMG_20171122_164753

The other heaven

Paris is no stranger to literature. It has been the centrum of not only the classics such as The Tale of Two Cities(Dickens) and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame(Hugo) but also Paris, France of Gertrude Stein and My Life in France by Julia Child. Henry Miller’s Quiet days in Clichy has a scene in which a policeman arrives at Joey’s and Carl’s apartment and questions them about Colette’s presence. By the grace of Franz Kafka Carl isn’t charged and only given a warning and that makes the statement ” It is Paris, even the policemen are literary” true.

I am in constant search of that literary Paris. Shakespeare and Co. is definitely part of my universe and so is Librairie Galignani on Rue de Rivoli. A part of me is always looking for that moment where I am in tight quarters with the books, the place with a personality of a human being, the one that makes you stay there and stand there leafing through myriad collections of timeless pieces. The place that tells the story, the place where books aren’t neatly stacked on shelves but in bundles. The place where they breathe and are allowed to be dog eared, where they aren’t an embellishment to an institution but an integral part that makes the institution. And I found one such place. In the city of lights! A friend had recommended Abbey Bookshop to me a while ago and this time I wasn’t in any mood to see the gimmicks of tourists on Rue de Bûcherie, I wanted to be in a quiet place which isn’t laden with people adorned with mini cannon sized cameras and taking photos of anything that moves or doesn’t.

It was one of those days when I wasn’t carrying my umbrella and it rained cats and dogs. Drenched, I entered the book store, dried myself a little and began my adventure in this heaven on 29 Rue de la Parcheminerie  75005 Paris. The place reminded me of Doctor Glas of Soderberg, Raskolnikov of Dostoyevsky, Holden Caulfield of Salinger, and Huckleberry Finn of Twain. It seemed all of them were having a conference there in their night suits while sitting on their warm and comfortable arm chairs generating the còsagach (competitor of Hygge these days) in the ambience.

IMG_20171123_153110

I browsed through the various sections for hours and so did the two other people who were there in the store with me. The place has so many books that it seems to defy the laws of Physics. Brien, the owner, told me that gravity had its way many times there. I got my copy Chekov’s farces and polar opposite Miller and his escapades in NYC and Paris and decided to leave but it was still raining very hard. I asked Brien if  by any chance he sells umbrellas as well, he went inside and fished for an umbrella and gave it to me and said with the usual Canadian warmth “Bring it back whenever it is a sunny day.”

With a smile on my face and an umbrella over my head, I knew I will be back again.

IMG_20171123_152658

Hygge by the Seine

I didn’t want to write this post but George Whitman’s words illuminating over the bookstore made me realize that if I want to be frère lampier then I have to be ready to light the metaphorical lamps.

The visit was akin to a pilgrimage for me. Situated by the river Seine in the latin quarters, the store does nothing but embellishes the bibliophile quotient of the city of lights.IMG_20170816_100829

The store is enormous and it holds so many books that it seems the place has achieved the best Weissman score for its compression algorithm. Initially the store was at 12 Rue de l’Odéon and was used as an office by Fitzgerald couple, T.S. Eliot, Hemingway. The owner of the store, Sylvia Beach, was the one who put James Joyce’s Ulysses into publishing.

The place has a beautiful cat that is not to be disturbed and I really admire the concept of no photography inside. At the entrance or by the bench one can find those tourists, with DSLRs larger than medieval cannons, looking through the eye piece of those massive devices and asking their friends/families/fellow travelers to pretend reading a book. How many photos and what types of photographs they are aiming at? Ich warum nicht!! Despite all this harakiri, there is a vibrant energy here that is scarce to find. The bookstore has rooms like chapters in a novel and Whitman had rightly described it by saying  “Where the streets of the world meet the avenues of the mind.”

It is a place where entire world comes, stays for a while and then leaves and for whatever time I was there, those moments were moments of Hygge for me.

San Francisco To Plant Pure Nation

I spent last month in traveling, both for official work and for leisure. A trip to San Francisco is always inviting and I grabbed it with both hands when my mind finally decided to utilize the memorial day weekend at last minute and I booked a hotel and flight to the golden state. I didn’t have any agenda per say, I decided to roam around the familiar neighborhoods of Mission, Richmond, Tenderloin, Japantown, Russian hill, Nob hill, South of market and so on. After savoring the wonderful view I had  from the balcony of my room, I decided to go out and roam around.

PANO_20170527_215622

My first stop was Bartlett Hall to check on a friend who wasn’t there that evening and then starting roaming around the streets. After few hours I was wondering what I am going to do in the city formerly knows as Yerba Buena for three days and the first thing that struck my mind apart from my holy visits to fisherman’s wharf int he morning was the vintage book stores. There are some wonderful book stores in the downtown area but the one that I adore are Kayo books on Post st. ( one has to take appointment), Green apple on Clement street between 6th and 7th avenue ( massive used books store, a must visit for bibliophiles ) – I would compare Green apple with the Book Cellar on 79th st. & York av. in Manhattan, my former home, although Book Cellar is much smaller; and the Books Inc. on Van Ness and Turk. I had ample amount of time and I decided to leaf through every possible book I could and enjoy my coffee, isn’t it a dream?

I already am a vegetarian, to be specific lacto vegetarian but then too I observed some gain in fat in past few months thanks to the whole milk and yogurt and my travel to the parts of USA where the word vegetarian invokes curious glances along with derisive mumbles. I don’t venture into the self help and cooking sections in general, not that I have akin to George Carlin’s aversion to self help but I have a different take. Let’s not digress here; So, I took a stroll into the cooking section this time and leafed through many vegan and vegetarian cooking books. They ranged from basic such as putting together an edible salad to much advanced one such as eggplant tagine with roasted freekah, what caught my eye was the various combinations that were put together and the emphasis on calorie count, reduction of sugar, salt, and oil in food. I enjoyed them thoroughly and enthused, eventually ended up buying two of them.

IMG_20170610_195324

Plant pure nation is more aggressive on no usage of oil along with veganism while vegan one is just true to its name. I brought them home and being motivated made a trip to grocery store where I purchased different types of grains such as freekah, mixed quinoa, bulgar wheat, oats along with other vegetables. My fridge hasn’t been so well equipped before but the results? They have been abysmal. When I cook, I am meticulous of the recipe, the heat, ingredients, the steps I have to take, and I don’t think twice to improvise. I started putting these recipes together such as mushroom pâté, or over baked potato chips but they didn’t turn out fine at all. It feels like I don’t know how to cook at all; even today I burnt my 4th batch of potato chips ( baked in oven without oil, not fried ). I used to think I can’t do wrong with chutneys but after today’s results I am wondering were previous ones all fluke or what? Pâté’s quantity is so massive that I need to invite people over few times to finish it over and in those invitations I would have to shove it down their throats.

I need a success soon sans which these books will start biting the dust like so many other books I have bought in the past are biting and stamping the concept of tsundoku in my life.

Guide – 1965

To me R K Narayan has always been more than a fiction writer; at one hand he is a sweet reminisce of relatable stories and on the other is someone whose stories if read deeply can be as complex as Freud’s civilization and its discontents.

08sd6

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059246/

Based on the book Guide which won Sahitya Academy, the movie – Guide, is a classic produced by Indian cinema industry. Few people know that it was Pearl S. Buck ( The writer of The good earth) convinced Dev Anand to produce a movie on this book while both of them were in Berlin film festival. Corroborated with excellent background score and soulful music, the movie is a mandatory watch to anyone interested in international cinema or any Indian who harbors the notion that CGI clad Hollywood movies are the best thing that have happened in this century. Although R K Narayan wasn’t elated on seeing the movie as the movie doesn’t adhere to the book verbatim, he extolled Waheeda Rehman ( Lead actress) for bringing Rosy alive on the celluloid.

It is interesting to see the how the characters of Rosy and Raju develop throughout the text. Love, skill, success, devotion, aversion, egotism, deception, introspection, withdrawal, asceticism, belief, altruism, and the eventual knowledge follow in order. The guide guides himself to glory. He guides himself to the strength that a few are introduced to and transcends the bridge of life and death. I can extrapolate Guide to the reverence with which The Great Gatsby is looked at and I think I am not wrong.

Catcher in the Rye

Last evening while I was sitting and working at cafe Jax on 84th street, a woman came and sat 2 seats left of me. I gave her a glimpse and tend to my work and on second look I saw that she was reading Catcher in the rye. I have few fond memories of the book and I did overuse the word ‘phony’ for months after I read the book. Everything was phony 🙂 That’s how a young mind works. I tore a piece of paper from my notebook, wrote something on it, got up and placed the note in front of her table. She read it and she and I had a hearty but silent laugh. I had written “I like it when somebody gets exciting about something. It’s nice!! – Holden Caulfield”. After couple of hours we came out of the cafe at nearly same time and talked at length about thousands of things – books, art, painters, museums (MET, neue, Guggenheim, MoMa etc), dinosaurs, food, restaurants, pastries and work.

Happens in Manhattan!