Monday, March 7, 2016

Reading in Paradise








"gigantes" getting ready for a wedding



Oaxaca is a colourful and exuberant city! The streets are filled with activity:another race on Sunday,
a wedding with "gigantes", the dance festival, Oaxaca Sabe ( a restaurant promotion this week) BUT
I am a "sociable introvert". Although I am thankful for the conversation of fellow volunteers at the library and fellow travellers that I meet and for my brief exchanges in Spanish with waiters and hotel staff, these encounters take effort and I am also thankful for time alone in my room.

Until I stayed in "el studio rustico", I didn't realize how important my surroundings are to me.  I can wander the streets of Oaxaca for about 4 hours then I must retreat into my solitude. I require
"a clean, well-lighted place" to read and to write. My room at the Parador del Domenico opens on to a small patio so I have a private outdoor space and natural light.

I truly appreciate the Oaxaca Lending Library because it has such an interesting collection of
books. Most of the books have been donated by the membership which is comprised of retired expatriates from the United States and Canada. The collection is curated by the Book Committee
on which I volunteer when I am in Oaxaca.

This week-end, I read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I saw Lauren Groff at a discussion of Elena Ferrante's work at the Vancouver Writers' Festival when I volunteered in October but I have not read any other of her books.







Fates and Furies is the story of a marriage. Lotto and Mathilde meet, marry and spend the next 24 years together. The first part of the novel "Fates" is told mostly from the perspective of Lotto. As he makes his way through life as an unsuccessful actor, as a  successful playwright, as an aging man who has lost his charisma, he is supported by his faithful wife Mathilde who seems to take pleasure in cleaning houses, entertaining, exercise and having sex with Lotto.

It is in the second part of the novel, "Fury" that we discover that "Mathilde" is not who Lotto thinks
she is. She is an "invention" of the marriage. Mathilde claims that "she didn't tell Lotto lies, she just didn't tell him..." For twenty-four years, the two live happily in a fantasy world. What is especially effective is that Groff uses literary and mythological allusions and takes liberties with time to create
 a fabulist feel to the novel.

During my visit to Oaxaca, I have also read a number of books by Elena Ferrante whose writing deals with personal relationships. Ferrante's books are never reshelved at the Library as there is such a great demand. Now that I have read Fates and Furies, I understand why Lauren Groff was part of the panel discussion on Ferrante.

Last fall, the small group from my church read Travelling Mercies by Anne Lamott. I was a bit skeptical at first because I tired of New Age and self-help in the 1990's. Lamott, a "Christian"
writer is refreshing however. I borrowed her Plan B from the Oaxaca Lending Library as well.

Her statement about why she writes resonated with me:
I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh. When I am reading a book like this, I feel rich and profoundly relieved to be in the presence of someone who will share the truth with me, and throw the lights on a little, and I try to write these kinds of books. Books, for me, are medicine.[6]

In Oaxaca, I am free from any personal "shoulds." The library, where there is coffee, bagels and conversation, is block away from the Parador. There are restaurants nearby where I can eat healthfully for less than $20 a day. I have only to put the sign on the door and my room will be
"made up". I sent four items of clothing out to be washed  and it cost me $3.  I walk every day in sunshine  to soak up the streets' activities.

Birds are chirping and voices can be heard in the courtyard. Breakfast and another volunteer
day at the library...



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