We were alerted a week ago to tonight’s fireworks at the Marriott Starr Pass Resort, but we weren’t told why. (Somebody was celebrating something.) I had forgotten and when I heard the explosions rushed out to take photos, forgetting that my camera had a special setting for fireworks (which I didn’t use)! I love fireworks. Resort is in the bottom right.
I only mentioned one reading from my U of A Humanities class, Nobel Laureates of Literature1, last semester. But must add a book by Mo Yan, the Laureate for 2012, from China. We read a collection of his short stories, Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh, and it was great! The NY Times says that the short story of the title is,
…brilliantly realistic and darkly funny.
The prolific, fanciful, unrestrained, sometimes outrageous Mr. Mo has created a universe full of earthy and craggy characters all of whom are battered, bruised, almost crushed by the undignified outrages of ordinary life.
Or, as Mr. Mo himself succinctly described his Buddhist-like frame of reference, “As long as humans live, there is pain.” But, describing his literary philosophy, he added, “I think most readers would prefer to read humorous sentences about a painful life.”
Humorous is one way to describe Mo Yan’s sentences, and no doubt a certain amused distance makes it easier to take in his mostly rural Chinese universe, its unfairness, its casual violence, its stench, its tragedies, its Kafkaesque frustrations. But one senses a caustic fury lurking just beneath the surface of his stories of ordinary Chinese lives, most of them lived where Mr. Mo himself grew up, in northern Shandong Province, where, as he put it in a preface to one collection, “the people struggled to keep death from the door, with little to eat and rags for clothes.” 2
The last Laureate I’ve liked as much was Doris Lessing back in 2007. I highly recommend it!
Then I read A Primate’s Memoir, recommended by a friend, a true story by Robert Sapolsky’s of his time in Kenya. Talk says, What Jane Goodall’s work might be like if she had a sense of humor. The book starts with,
I joined the baboon troop during my twenty-first year. I had never planned to become a savanna baboon when I grew up; instead, I had always assumed I would become a mountain gorilla.
Page 226 he finally gets to visit the mountain gorillas.
Another hour. Misty rain, but somehow warmer. More nettles. Something resembling a real path and a flattened clump of grass to the left of it. Large, fibrous, shredded turds in the middle, the type you would expect from a pro football player gone vegetarian. The gorillas. Fresh, last night’s nest.
The cover calls it, by turns hilarious and poignant and I have to agree. Some sections had me rolling on the floor, others very depressed. But a must read.
I forget who recommended Devil in the White City, a non-fiction book by Erik Larson presented in a novelistic style. (Leonardo DiCaprio has purchased the film rights.) The Times says,
”The Devil in the White City,” has the inspiration to combine two distantly related late-19th-century stories into a narrative that is anything but quaint. One describes planning and preparation for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and it holds an unexpected fascination. Mr. Larson is omnivorous enough to have collected data not only on the distinguished architects who collaborated on this vision but also notes that it featured a chocolate Venus de Milo and a 22,000-pound cheese.
The book’s other path follows a prototypical American serial killer whose fictional counterparts are by now ubiquitous. He built and operated a conveniently located World’s Fair Hotel, complete with walk-in vault, greased wooden chute and person-sized basement kiln. As for where this would lead, ”only Poe could have dreamed the rest.”3
I was more interested in the architects (especially Frederick Law Olmsted, landscape architect in charge of the World’s Fair landscape, who also designed New York City’s Central Park) than the murderer. But then, I’m an architect.
With a height of 264 feet it was the largest attraction at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, where it opened to the public in 1893. It was intended to rival the 1,063 foot Eiffel Tower, the centerpiece of the 1889 Paris Exposition.
Hyde Park History had more details on the 36 gondolas:
The cars were 24 feet long, 13 feet wide, and 10 feet high, and weighed 26,000 pounds. Each car carried fancy twisted wire chairs for 38 of the 60 passengers [per car!]. The five large plate glass windows on each side were fitted with heavy screens and the doors at each end were provided with secure locks. Firefighting equipment was carried as a safeguard. Six platforms were arranged to speed loading and unloading, with a guard at each to signal the operator when his car was filled and locked. Conductors rode in each car to answer patrons’ questions or, if necessary, to calm their fears. 4
Ever the ingenious promoter Westinghouse outbid Edison for the contract to power the expositions lighting and electrical systems. Over two hundred thousand electric light bulbs were illuminated by Tesla’s polyphase alternating current system.
Anyway, it’s long (390 pages, not counting the 57 pages of notes, sources, credits, and index), but I think it’s good, especially for my architecture friends.