Why, I do believe it’s been quite a while since I posted any pictures of castles and manor houses… High time I remedied that. On this occasion, it’s all chateaux from my region, Rhone Alpes. Just to show you what you can move into, should you choose to become my neighbour! Something for all tastes, from medieval to 19th century, from modest proportions to royal.
Don’t forget to invite me over for a cup of tea when you do move in…
My life has been coloured by others. My body, my heart, my mind have sickened with compassion.
I make no claims to be exceptional in this: my skin is simply more permeable than most. My moods are dampened by other people’s suffering, my joy tempered by the thought that so many around the world do not have even half of the things I take for granted. I am restless and anxious when friends are ill or going through a rough patch. I hope they know that I am always there to help and support them, even if it causes myself discomfort or trouble. But who isn’t willing to put themselves out for friends? Nothing exciting to report there.
I worry about the poor and oppressed, the voiceless, powerless, helpless, nameless, faceless. I fear for all who are different of face, limb or thought, the outsiders, the rebels – with or without a cause, willful or yielding. I am guilty of not being there for everyone who ever needed me, not helping whenever I could, turning away with disgust when I could have tried to understand or forgive more.
So I always try to see the other side of the story, the other point of view. I can be accused of sitting on fences, of lack of courage, of refusing to commit, of having no certainties. I will always listen to one more argument, even if I do not agree with them. As Byron says:
If I am fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of his self-approved wisdom.
I don’t believe in this contemporary quest for personal happiness. I wish I did. I wish I could pursue happiness without considering it selfish. I wish I could have intransigent views and be deaf to the multitude of voices. I wish I could have less empathy and more self-absorption. It sometimes feels to me that people who are compassionate are taken advantage of.
But it’s too late for me: my skin remains paper-thin, rippling with every current. I can understand and feel for even the most repulsive or conflicted characters in a book. I cry at films, weddings, funerals, graduations or friends’ confessions. ‘Put yourself in the other person’s shoes’ is not just a motto, it’s a way of life.
Is it too late for my children, I wonder? Am I doing the right thing teaching them to have more patience, more understanding, more empathy for other people? Would they be more serene if they were more blind to the needs of others, would they sleep more soundly when their universe extends only a shallow distance beyond their own contours?
Those are the darkest days, when I question the wisdom of compassion. Most days, however, I believe that the world is suffering from a lack of, rather than a surfeit of compassion.
For me personally, compassion is not a choice but a compulsion, but I have often been told to ‘care less’, to learn to ‘put myself first’. ‘Compassion is the radicalism of our time’ says the Dalai Lama – and how frightening it can be!
There is a beautiful new bookshop that just opened up last week in the centre of Bucharest, in a recently renovated, gracious old mansion. I’m very excited about this and can hardly wait to go there to ‘visit’ (code word for ‘buy lots of books’).
But there are plenty of other wonderful bookshops round about Bucharest and Romania.
Advance warning: there will be a second blog post later on today, for the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion initiative! It’s not too late: if you want to take part, find out more about it here.
You know my motto: there’s always room for a bookshelf or three. But what if your home simply refuses to cooperate? Fear not, the Bookshelf Doctor is here with some imaginative solutions for all those awkward spaces!
Oversized staircase getting you down (or up, as the case may be)? Rather than keeping your vacuum cleaner and spare suitcases in there, make it a book haven. Some of those ornaments may just have to go, though.
Narrow hallway threatening to close you in? Stuff your boots and brollies under the bench, then sit down and enjoy your wall-to-wall covering of books and magazines.
Need a decorative item for the living room, to disguise your book-binging habits? Make it look effortless and minimalistic with this floating shelf.
Oddly-shaped space between windows? Don’t hide it! Draw attention to it with a vividly-coloured bookshelf and a picture of the villa of your dreams.
Living in an old manor house with beams? Try…
Nah, if you live in this manor house and have matchy-matchy book covers, you can probably afford to have a custom-made bookshelf built for you.
Happy weekend reading, everyone, and see you after I come back from here.
There is a website where you can enter your year of birth and get to ‘see’ the top music tracks of each year of school, the soundtrack to your early life, as it were. Which got me thinking… what are the songs that meant most to me in my life? They weren’t necessarily the ones that were the greatest hits at the time, nor are they trendy, cool, or chosen for their artistic merit. I probably should be embarrassed to death about at least half of them. I’m certainly somewhat surprised and frustrated that they are so often related to ‘other people’, to falling in love and such things. But, like it or not, these are the songs to which I developed a personal connection and which are vivid reminders of certain periods of my life.
1982 – The Wall – Pink Floyd
Is there any school child who did not rise up and sing ‘We don’t need no education…’? Even though I actually rather liked school. At least in those early years.
1983 – Scary Monsters (Super Creeps) – David Bowie
The first single I ever bought. Then I bought the album; then some of his earlier albums. This was David Bowie of the Serious Moonlight Tour, the pastel suits, the ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Little China Girl’. But I preferred his earlier music… and his film roles in The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Hunger, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and his cameo in Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo. I was completely besotted with him and convinced that he’d wait for me to grow up and we’d get married. Spoiler alert: he didn’t.
1987 – I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight – Cutting Crew
My first big love affair with a boy with turquoise eyes… who vaguely resembled the lead singer of this band and taught me nearly everything I know about skiing.
1989 – I Want to Break Free – Queen
A secret anthem during my teenage years and my difficult relationship with my parents. But also the year that all of us young people finally broke free in my country – or at least found democracy and capitalism. For better, for worse…
1990 – She Drives Me Crazy – Fine Young Cannibals
I was interpreting for international television crews during the first free elections in Romania. I was often the only (young) woman in a gaggle of (older) men, but I think I managed to make them toe the line. This was the song that they said reminded them of me. It reminds me of the world of possibilities that was opening up to me just then.
1992 – Pata Pata – Miriam Makeba
One of the happiest years of my life, when I did my M.Phil. in Cambridge. I learnt ballroom dancing for the first time and fell completely in love with it – this was our cha-cha music. This was also the year that I met the great love of my life. Sadly, it didn’t last very long.
2003 – Can’t Take My Eyes Off You – Andy Williams
The song I used to croon to my first-born, waltzing with him in a kangaroo pouch up and down the living room. How can a mother not identify with these words? ‘You’re just too good to be true/ can’t take my eyes off you/ You’d be like heaven to touch/ I wanna hold You so much/ At long last love has arrived/ And I thank God I’m alive…’
2014 – Sweet Darling – Frero Delavega
This is a really silly (and somewhat sexist) song, but it’s the one that my boys have adapted to sing to our beloved cat when she is debating whether to go outside in the wet, cold or snow: ‘Oh, my sweet darling Zoe/ don’t go!’ It perfectly captures all their humour, tenderness and silliness – and their affection for their ‘little sister’.
Will 2015 bring any memorable songs? I intend this to be a year of movement, of leaving lethargy behind and getting stuff DONE. So it’s either full circle to Pink Floyd and ‘Shine On, You Crazy Diamond’ or else… I’m rather tempted by this:
The lengths Mattel will go to, to revive their stuttering sales…
Meet Barbie Princess Power. The following sentences are from their marketing material.
Kara is a modern-day princess with an everyday life. One day, after being kissed by a magical butterfly, Kara soon discovers she has amazing super powers allowing her to transform into Super Sparkle, her secret, crime-fighting alter ego who flies around the kingdom ready to save the day!
Her secret weapon: kindness, niceness and friendship. She transforms the baddies by appealing to their inner ‘nice guy’ – which, obviously, must come to the fore when they see the outfit she is wearing!
As if girls haven’t had enough of being told for generations that they need to be ‘nice’, friendly, kind, even when all around them the others aren’t. To keep a marriage together even if the husband is unkind, unloving, cheating, a bully, a drunk because ‘at least he doesn’t beat you.’ To continue to ‘seduce’ the husband with feminine wiles (and expensive make-up, depilation and lingerie) so that he doesn’t stray. To flatter the male CEO and not be too loud or self-assured in meetings. I’ve seen it in far too many of my friends – and in myself – that we are so concerned with making life comfortable for all the people in our lives, we are so busy bolstering everyone else’s ego, so keen to avoid conflict … that we are not doing ourselves any favours!
‘Nice’ people become martyrs. They most certainly do not win in life. Assertiveness does not mean we’re not ‘nice’.When can we have a superheroine Barbie who can be grumpy on occasion, strong, opinionated, as well as empathetic and gentle? When can we tell our daughters it’s fine to be demanding and selfish and real?
It’s here! My membership pack for the crime festival Quais du Polar in Lyon, taking place this year on 27-29 March, arrived today. Not that it costs anything to participate (long live la culture en France!) – but I opted to become a Club Member so that I could jump ahead of the queues at some of the most popular panels and events.
The line-up is fantastic. Can’t possibly mention all the authors taking part, but here is a selection of personal highlights from English-speaking countries: Anthony Horowitz, Denise Mina, Elizabeth George, Emily St. John Mandel, Michael Connelly, Louise Penny, Nicci French, Attica Locke, Ian Rankin, John Grisham, Tom Rob Smith.
Of the French authors, I’m looking forward to seeing Caryl Ferey, David Khara, Dominique Manotti, Elsa Marpeau, Franck Thilliez, Ian Manook, illustrator Max Cabanes, Maxime Chattam, Michel Bussi, Sylvie Granotier – and there seems to be lots of debut talent to discover, as well.
Last, but not least, there will be authors from all corners of the world, like Leonardo Padura from Cuba, Dror Mishani from Israel, Ernesto Mallo from Argentina, Gunnar Staalesen from Norway, Kishwar Desai from India, Paco Ignacio Taibo II from Mexico, Santiago Gamboa from Columbia, Paulo Lins from Brazil, Yana Vagner from Russia, Yasmina Khadra from Algeria. I have the feeling I won’t have any trouble completing the South American component of my Global Reading Challenge!
[In case you’re wondering: the postcards feature guests from previous years P.D. James, George Pelecanos, Claude Chabrol, Franck Thilliez and Tim Willocks. The membership pack also contains a book and a badge.]