Monday, December 29, 2008

"Who is John Galt?"

I've just begun Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and i'm absolutely loving it.

the story is set in a fictional America (i'm not sure if fictional is the right word. it's like an America of a science fiction novel. the book was published in 1957, so it's kinda like the futuristic fantasy-ish America the author envisions, but it also has the feeling of being set in the past, probably because it was written in the fifties.) and the entire world is in shambles.

There are only protagonists and antagonists in the story, and it's very obvious who is "good" and who is "evil." the people who are "good" are capitalists. the "evil" people are socialists (though they aren't called that... they are called "looters.")

The main character, Dagny Taggart, is the VP of Taggart Transcontinental, the hugest railroad in the country. She fiercely tries to save the family railroad from ruin at the hands of her weak, looter brother. She makes unpopular business choices to save the company, such as building new railroad tracks made out of Rearden Metal, a revolutionary kind of metal that is stronger than steel, lighter than steel and is virtually indestructible, yet is unpopular to the looters, because it could take away business from them, the steel magnates.

Hank Rearden is the entrepreneur/inventor of Rearden Metal. The looters try to blackball Dagny and Hank, because their "up and coming" ideas may threaten their businesses. They make rules such as the "Anti-dog-eat-dog" rule (yes, it's really called that) that try to force out new businesses that do things differently than the status quo. It's like if Blockbuster tried to make Netflix illegal just for being a new idea that threatens Blockbuster's business.

Francisco d'Anconia is a copper magnate who is known as one of the shrewdest businessmen on earth. Inexplicably, he suddenly spends millions on a mine in Mexico, where there is no copper. The mine is nationalized by the People's State of Mexico, and when they find that there is no copper, they are furious at Francisco, though he claims ignorance. Even though they seized millions of his private property, the Mexicans feel justified that they have the right to be angry because what he did was "unfair."

Slowly, throughout the novel, the world's most brilliant minds in business, art, literature, and music suddenly "drop off the face of the earth." they mysteriously disappear, and we get the feeling that d'Anconia (and others we haven't met yet) is going after Hank and Dagny (who is also his childhood friend and former lover) to pull them "underground" with him and others. They are so fiercely capitalist that they resist, and don't understand that d'Anconia is on their "side" as well... that his going underground is the greatest act of resistance to the mob of looters that he can perform.

the whole novel is supposed to, through artistic expression, outline the author's personal philosophy of existence called objectivism. basically, it expresses that man is bound by no moral obligation except to one's own happiness. that one should selfishly pursue one's own happiness no matter the cost... that one cannot be happy without freedom. that individualism is the only way to be free and that collectivism, statism, and socialism are inherently evil. selfishness is a pure and moral behavior.

it's a very interesting philosophy, one that is explained even better by knowing the author's history. she was raised in Russia during the Bolshevik revolution. everything her family owned was confiscated by the Soviets (or the Bolsheviks... are they the same?) everything was about the State, not the individual.

you can see how someone who was raised in such a dark, scary environment would create a philosophy like objectivism. i think this book is especially timely to be reading now. the economy in crisis and the government's increasing role in the US today and the US of Atlas Shrugged are surprising parallels.
okay, enough of this... back to reading!

Monday, December 8, 2008


France is a magical, romantic place that inspires so many artists so that there are always an abundance of books to read about it. some of my favorite books set in france are:

Marie Antoinette: A Journey by Antonia Fraser. delicious, delicious! this was the book that they used to base the Kirsten Dunst movie off of, however, there is no comparison. the book is jam-packed with wonderful historical information and yet you'd never know it was history (if you're the type of person bored by history, which i'm NOT) and you'd just think it was storytime!

Almost French: Love and a New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull. She's an Australian writer who goes to France on assignment, falls in love with a Frenchman, and never leaves! Another delicious story, although i'm a little weirded out by the whole move-in-immediately-with-a-creepy-French-guy element.

Something always resonates with me when i find words that express my passionate feelings about Paris. i've never been anywhere that i've fallen in love with so much, so i get super excited when i find my own feelings about Paris in someone else's more eloquent words.
here are some delightfully delicious (this is the fourth time i've written delicious) quotes about Paris from books i've read:

"It was then also that i first had the feeling that coming back to Paris was coming home, and that leaving it... was leaving something of myself behind as well."

"Those expatriates [in Paris], temporary or permanent, all shared a delicious (not my choice, this time!) secret, an almost clandestine pleasure, which was the unstated, defiant conviction that...Paris was simply the best place in the whole world to live... Part of it was the food, of course... Part of it was also the French language... And there is the beauty of the city... The worst view of all is from atop the Eiffel Tower, from where Paris is only a big, sprawling city with a modest-sized river running through it. No, what really captivates is the late afternoon sun on the arches of the rue de Rivoli, or the Eiffel Tower glimpsed diagonally through the rear window of a taxi, or a Gothic steeple at the end of a street as one comes up from the Metro, or the gentle curve of rue Saint-Antoine that saw the tumbrels of the Revolution. These are all things that native Parisians take for
granted. But you need only be from another country... to admit that yes, these small vistas become personally important.
And then there is living with history..."

this is what i love about Paris, not the grandiose or the tourist traps, but the daily pleasures of life in Paris, the secret treasures that may be around every corner... if you turn your head, what might you glimpse? if you get lost and wander around trying to find your way, what treasures may you stumble upon?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

i am imagining myself...
in paris, swinging my legs over the seine river, munching on a baguette with my lover. the gray water laps against the stone wall beneath us. the baguette is crusty on the outside, but soft and sweet in the middle. we just rip off chunks and stuff them in our mouths, like the French do. we waited in line at a boulangerie, where people waited patiently for their turn. it's amazing how infectious patience can be.

we watch as tourist boats slowly chug up and down the seine and the passengers gape gleefully at the landmarks they pass. the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, and finally they loop around Notre Dame Cathedral and return to dock. do they know that they floated past Le Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette spent her last days? do they know that the gilded Dome Church houses Napoleon's remains? and that Parisians still respectfully call it "le tombeau de l'empereur?" do they know that Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame to save the cathedral from falling into disrepair? and that at his death, millions came to pay their respects?

in the Tuileries Gardens, we walk together, laughing, our fingers intertwined. we lie on the grass together, by the fountain, where children splash, racing miniature sailboats while their mothers lazily observe. he rests his head on my stomach and i stroke his hair with one hand; the other holds ernest hemingway's A Moveable Feast. i read aloud to him until i know he's asleep, and then i too, close my eyes and let the sun's warmth wash over me. i hear the children giggling at the fountain. a violinist on the corner plays a lonely tune.

tonight, on the #6 metro, we gasp as the train bursts from the dark tunnel out into the dark night. the tour eiffel sparkles just before us and we lurch to a stop. a young man with a guitar hops on, hoping to earn a few coins. the doors slam shut. the guitarist saunters, strumming, over to the prettiest girl in the car. he forgets the rest of us and serenades her as the light from the flickering tower fades behind us. the train plunges underground again, rattling. she stares out the window, but in the reflection, i see a smile dance upon her lips.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sonnets 17 and 43

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.

I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;

so I love you because I know no other way than this:

where I does not exist, nor you,

so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,

so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

This is ending of my favorite sonnet by Pablo Neruda.

This is so simple and beautiful. I love it when writers find something true about life and write about it and keep it simple rather than complicate it. When you think about it, life is simple... love, pain, family, friends, faith, laughter, tears... yet inevitably people complicate such simple things.

Another favorite sonnet is the famous Sonnet 43 from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese. First of all, i would love it for no other reason than that it's from a compilation called Sonnets from the Portuguese. That's just magical and romantic, right there. I even love the word Portuguese. It's so exotic. It sounds like they are a people who really know how to love...

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of everyday's

Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

I love thee with the breath, smiles and tears of all my life. My favorite line.