Paul Theroux’s novel Under the Wave at Waimea (2021) looks at life through the eyes of an aging champion surfer whose life takes a turn for the worse after he runs over a drunk, homeless cyclist near his home on the North Shore of O’ahu.
Theroux describes his hero, Joe Sharkey:
Sharkey surfed every day, and every day tried something new—a turn, a cutback, swiveling on the face of a wave as though carving his signature on it, writing on water. It was not practice or preparation; it was a way of spending the day, easing the passage of time; a way of living his life, because he made the moves his own.
With the help of his girlfriend, Olivia, Joe seeks to change his luck by trying to find out more about his victim, whose body is still identified at the morgue in Honolulu. The result is a spiritual journey to understand his life and the life of the people affected by the accident.
I have always thought of surfing as a lightweight activity. In his book, Theroux manages to interweave Joe Sharkey’s life on the waves with an almost metaphysical understanding of what it all means:
Nothing was certain. Every wave had a hidden contour and something like a mystical muscle in it that could trip you: every succeeding wave had the capacity to hold you down and suffocate you to death. The world was a wave, a wave was pitiless.
With Under the Wave at Waimea, Paul Theroux has attained a level of mastery in the art of fiction that I long suspected he had the potential for, but have not hitherto seen in print—though he came close on occasion.
I am happy to give my highest recommendation to his Under the Wave at Waimea, certainly the best current American novel I have read since 2000.
They both look rather similar if you’re not a botanist: basil and oregano. I remember attending a cooking demonstration at a Greek Orthodox Church in Redondo Beach and being told by Pitsa Captain and Akrevoe Emmanouilides, the instructors, that in Greek cuisine the preferred spice was oregano. And that despite the fact that basil grew wild everywhere!
Although oregano is used in Italian cooking, the predominant flavor is of basil.
In point of fact, I love both herbs. And I have even been known to use both of them in the same dish, especially pizza.
I love using fresh basil in my Italian cooking, even though I have to pay a bundle each time I buy it. Some day, I will probably create my own little herb garden in a box that hangs from the iron railing on the back steps of my apartment.
As for oregano, I have only ever used it dry and have not encountered any recipes that call for the fresh herb. I wonder why.
I found out in the most brutal way possible. I was in the endocrinologist’s clinic. The doctor mentioned in an aside, “You know, of course, that you’re sterile?” At that point in my life, I was appalled. Of course I wanted to raise a family, with perhaps two offspring. But it was apparently not to be. I had one major adjustment surviving brain surgery a couple years earlier, but now I had another major adjustment in the offing. No kids. No normal family life.
Upon hearing this several acquaintances (they could never really be my friends) would pipe in with, “You can always adopt!” If I adopted a child, it would be mine only by an act of will stretching decades into the future … to care for someone who, biologically, had nothing in common with me. Okay, so I am not Mother Teresa. I make no claims to sainthood.
I made the adjustment. The women I went out with just assumed that I was telling an untruth when I told them I was sterile, so I went along with it until I went to my doctor who tested me and certified that, yes, indeed, I was shooting only blanks.
Now, in my seventies, I look back on my life and am happy that I did not have to raise any children. My one long-term relationship has been with Martine, a woman who did not ever want to have children. I don’t think I would have been a good father, and as Francis Bacon wrote, “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.”
Among my friends, I am known for the obscurity of my reading choices. In fact, I even split with one of my old friends because he thought most of my reading was not sufficiently dogmatic in a Marxist sense. Of course, he read about eight books a year, while I typically read somewhere between 150 and 160. Call me ugly, call me fat, call me vicious even—but don’t attack my reading choices.
Here are seven authors whose work I have read this year who are relatively unknown even to more literate readers, but they are all excellent writers. And several of them have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Ivo Andrić (1892-1975). Bosnian Serb.1921-1996) Nobel Prize. Most famous work: The Bridge on the Drina.
Nicolas Bouvier (1929-1998). Swiss. Travel writer. Most famous work: The Way of the World.
George Mackay Brown (1921-1996). Scottish from the Orkneys. Poet and fiction writer. Most famous work: Collected Poetry.
Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995). American. Mysteries. Most famous work: Strangers on a Train.
Lászlo Krasznahorkai (1954-Present). Hungarian. Novelist. Most famous work: The Melancholy of Resistance.
Patrick Modiano (1945-Present). French. Novelist. Nobel Prize. Most famous work: Pedigree.
Derek Walcott (1930-2017). Caribbean. Poet. Nobel Prize. Most famous work: Omeros.
If you recognize two or more of the above writers, you have my congratulations. I have read multiple works of five of the above. I plan to read more by Bouvier and Walcott in the coming six months.
In the Andes, one of the main sources of meat are guinea pigs. They are easy to raise, particularly if you don’t give them names or regard them as pets. The above picture was taken in Otavalo, Ecuador, famous for its Saturday tianguis, or market.
I have eaten many local foods, but never bothered to sample cuy, mostly because it is regarded as being full of tiny bones. According to one website:
All over Peru, towns honor the importance of cuy to their cuisine. Pachamanca, a traditional cooking method involving earthen ovens, often features guinea pig meat. A mural in the main cathedral of Cusco depicts Jesus and his disciples eating guinea pig at the Last Supper. During an annual festival in the town of Churin, residents celebrate cuy by dressing the animals up in colorful costumes. And across the country, townspeople gather and eat guinea pigs in honor of folk saints as part of a celebration known as jaca tsariy.
In Chivay, Peru, I ate alpaca, which wasn’t half bad. I had the opportunity to eat edible clay at Sillustani, Peru; but I passed on it. That didn’t protect me from getting a horrible case of travelers’ diarrhea aboard a boat on Lake Titicaca.
In general, I took to the local cuisines of the Andean countries I visited. Perhaps one of the most interesting phenomena was the prevalence of chifas, Chinese restaurants, in all but the smallest towns. Even at Machu Picchu, I had a tasty wonton soup in the cool of the evening before my trip up the mountain.
Within walking distance of the great fortified mountain that is Stirling Castle sits a monument to William Wallace, Scotland’s great hero and self-taught military genius. It was at Stirling Bridge in 1297 that William Wallace led a force of around 5,500 men, with only 300 cavalry, against 9,000 men, with 2,000 cavalry led by Hugh Cressingham for Edward Longshanks, King of England.
It was Wallace’s unique skill that he knew how to read a battlefield and make the land help him win. It was only when he was forced to fight a typical large scale battle at Falkirk in 1298 that he lost. After that, things went downhill for the Scot, who was betrayed to Edward and executed in 1305 without an actual trial.
Wallace was the son of a knight, who was knighted by Robert the Bruce only after Stirling Bridge. As such, he was looked down upon by the Scottish nobility, many of whom were more comfortable speaking in Norman French than either English or Gaelic. What the nobles were after was not freedom for Scotland, but more power and more wealth for their families. Relative commoners like Wallace didn’t count.
I have just finished reading Nigel Tranter’s historical novel The Wallace, which was likely more accurate than the considerable mythmaking evident in the film Braveheart. I have visited the Wallace monument twice on my travels and was impressed for the monument’s rare tribute to a person not of noble blood—unthinkable in the Middle Ages.
King François I of France invited Leonardo Da Vinci to move to Amboise, where he lived in a splendid house within walking distance of the Chåteau de Amboise. Polish Poet Adam Zagajewski wrote a poem musing on Leonardo’s last act on the Loire in France.
He lives in France now,
calmer and much weaker.
He is the jewel in the crown. Favored
with the monarch’s friendship.
The Loire rolls its waters slowly.
He considers the projects
he left unfinished.
His right hand, half-paralyzed,
has already departed.
His left would also like to take its leave.
And his heart, and his whole body.
Islands of light still
Talk about history: Scotland has had it. Think about how much mythmaking occurred when the Confederacy surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. Well, Scotland was put through the mill by Perfidious Albion (England) for upwards of a thousand years—and they’re still chafing under the collar.
I am currently reading Nigel Tranter’s The Wallace about William Wallace’s revolt against English rule under Edward Longshanks (alias Edward I Plantagenet). It brings Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart (1995), though it is a much more detailed work about Wallace’s battles at Stirling Bridge (1297) and Falkirk (1298). We get to see in greater detail the treacherousness of the Scottish nobles, who were mostly in it for themselves.
Over his long career, Nigel Tranter wrote prolifically—not only the historical novels for which he is famous, but a five-volume history of the fortified house (read: castle) in Scotland, children’s books, novels set in the present day, and even Westerns. There is very little of the vast pageant of Scottish history that Tranter did nottouch upon, from St. Columba and Kenneth MacAlpine and MacBeth to the present day.
To date, I have read about a score of his novels, hardly making a dent in his total opus. And not a single one of his books has been a stinker. I regard him as one of the best writers of historical novels who ever lived, and also the most vivid describer of battles throughout history. His description of Wallace’s victory at Stirling Bridge is so vivid that I didn’t feel that I needed a map to follow the action.
Missouri calls itself the “Show Me” state. In yesterday’s session of the Congressional January 6 Insurrection Investigation Committee, it took only a few minutes to show that senator from Missouri was, after all, just another whiny little bitch with delusions of grandeur.
Early in the day, he was photographed giving a fist pump to rile up the demonstrators who were listening to the former president urging them to march on the Capitol Building. Yesterday, we saw the true Josh Hawley, fleeing from the mob he had encouraged, while the Capitol Police had to stand by to protect him and his like from the forces he helped set in motion.
As time goes on, I see the marchers and their supporters as people who are damaged into different ways. So many of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers still lived with their parents and were unable to hold down a job. Today Steve Bannon was declared guilty on two counts of Contempt of Congress and will be sentenced in October—all because he believed that he was protected by “executive privilege.” I don’t recall that argument ever working before, especially inasmuch as only guilty people seem to cling to it.
So far I have seen three of the televised January 6 congressional committee meetings. They have given me some hope that, perhaps, Mar-a-Lago Fats and his confederates will end up in the pokey.
I keep thinking of Latin American avenues and squares being named after calendar dates, such as the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires and 20 de Noviembre all through Mexico. Perhaps the access road to some of our Federal Prisons should be renamed to Avenue January 6.
As of today, I have seen Jacques Tourneur’s excellent The Curse of the Demon at least half a dozen times. (The film, released by Columbia in 1957, is also known as Night of the Demon.)
I regard films involving demonology as potentially the scariest of horror films. After all, there are ways to overcome vampires, Frankenstein monsters, mummies, werewolves, and zombies; but no one can overcome Satan himself. The script is based on a famous short story by M. R. James entitled “Casting the Runes.” You can find a copy of the story by clicking here.
Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) is a skeptical investigator sent from the U.S. to England to speak at an international conference on the paranormal, shortly after one of the other speakers dies gruesomely outside his home. It is suspected that Dr. Julian Karswell, a British Satanist, was involved.
Karswell meets Holden in the British Library Reading Room, where he chivalrously reaches down and hands Holden a file he has dropped. Inside that file is a strip of paper with an ancient runish curse that Holden will die at 10 pm several days hence.
As the time approaches, Holden and the niece of the dead investigator try to understand what is happening and to cleverly circumvent it.
Along the way, there are weird sequences when Karswell summons the powers of darkness to scare Holden and convince him that he is a goner.
This is a film worth seeing multiple times. Watch out that you don’t bite your tongue while munching on popcorn during the scarier scenes.
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