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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Travel, on November 1st, 2016.

mostar_neretva_590

This small city, Mostar, is just so beautiful. The river, the Neretva, is probably the high point. The city was a crossroads for trade, way back in history.

On this recent trip to Croatia, I learned a lot about the geographic break-up of Yugoslavia in 1994-95. I mean, we all heard about it, right? There were years of fighting that went on for nearly a decade between the Serbs and others. Sarajevo, Dubrovnik and Mostar suffered greatly during those wars (all in Bosnia). They’re even now, just getting their feet on the ground and learning to be a democratic group of countries. And, as I mentioned earlier, each of the 5 countries is fiercely proud of their independence (for themselves, but also from each other). Unemployment is rampant, though it’s lower in the more tourist centric countries. They all are striving for more tourism – they need it until they can build up their economies with other products to export. Lots of investors from around the world are pouring money into hotels to help the tourism.

Mostar (Bosnia):  The old brigde (Stari most) over the Neretva river; Photo: Thomas AlbothMostar was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva. The Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, and is considered one of the most beautiful pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. I took a couple of photos of the bridge (and I managed to trip and fall while I was on the slippery bridge – it was raining). But I found a great photo on the web, above. I think it came from a tourism website.

There is still evidence of the wars – mortar damage to buildings. Much of the landmarks in Mostar were destroyed during the war (including the famous bridge) but they’ve all been rebuilt. Mostar and much of Bosnia is Muslim. Many women were in head coverings, though I don’t recall seeing a single woman in complete coverings (except in Sarajevo). It’s interesting how one Muslim country makes an issue over the women’s dress; others do not. When my DH and I visited Turkey in 1997, very few women were in full coverings, but now it’s a mandate of the country if you’re a Muslim woman.

mostar_bldg

What that building was, I’m not sure – it was next to one of the side rivers of the Neretva. It might have been a restaurant. hindin_han_lunch_mostarIt just was picturesque. While in Mostar, we had a fantastic lunch at a restaurant called the Hindin Han. There’s a photo of the huge plate of food – french fries on the bottom, a chicken breast across the middle, lamb kofta on the right, a pork sausage in the middle (really delicious) and beef kabob at the bottom. And a salad with nothing on it. That meal would have been enough for me for the entire day, but we had dinner at our hotel too. Way too much food. In general, we were served too much food. Mostly the Croatians eat their main meal at noontime, but for us they served us a dinner-sized meal (plus some) at both lunch and dinner. We had a local city guide there, a charming young man whose family owns a coffee shop there. It was after 3pm when we arrived, and he only had regular espresso – I knew it would keep me awake, so I didn’t have any. I was sorry not to enjoy some.

mostar_restaurants_on_river

In Mostar, restaurants line the riversides – what a beautiful sight it was. Wish we’d been able to enjoy more than one of them. We spent just a part of a day in Mostar.

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