The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This is a book I read at college but I didn’t like it. It was shocking and terrifying. I also didn’t like the way the book was constructed but I don’t think it could be done in any other way. It was meant to illustrate the power that such a revolution would have on you and it certainly did that for me. I was confused as to how such a thing could take place but so is Offred and everyone else. That is why they fight to overcome the system. Offred is very strong and resistant to the new regime but sensible enough to know that you have to act a certain way to survive. I don’t want to give the game away to any of you who haven’t read it or seen the TV series. I expect the follow up The Testaments is where the material for later series comes from.

Have you found any unexpected novels that you persevered with and later understood them much better?

India – Delhi (part 1)

I have just been to the Indian subcontinent on a 2 week trip to take in many of the world renown cultural and historical sites that are spread around. I was extraordinarily lucky in that Covid 19 only affected the later part of my trip in Goa and Mumbai. I am now home having got what was perhaps one of the last planes out of India before they started to shut everything down.

I flew into Delhi to start my exploration. Our hotel was a heritage hotel (there called Haveli’s like ours was) in the centre of Old Delhi. Inside there was many pictures of the renovations that had taken place to turn the building from a wreck to the stunning place that it now was. Your greeted by refreshments, the red dot is applied to your forehead as a welcome and as a precaution due to Covid 19 you have your temperature taken. Then you have the forms and after being handed your key left to your own devices as the restaurant timings have already been explained to you. For yours and there entertainment in the evenings they fly kites which you can see being demonstrated on the roof at sunset. They also do pigeon racing which is explained to you. From the roof I got an excellent view of the city sprawl.

Later in the evening they have traditional music Life in Delhi is loud as you soon learn. The often repeated phrase, “In India you need 3 things, Good horn, good brakes and good luck.” is understood pretty quickly. On the back of every vehicle it says Horn Please! or Horn not OK to indicate the drivers preference. The streets of Delhi are narrow so walking is an art form as you have to dodge all many of transportation and people selling to you on the street. The roads are congested and there is no such thing as a bus stop or bus station. You just get on or off the bus at a traffic intersection. Pedestrians have little fear of death here as at every junction you will get children miming they want food for there younger siblings, people trying to sell you trinkets or most surprisingly lady boys trying to advertise there services. I didn’t think you would get groups of men dressed in Saris walking the streets. The guide told us that frequently European men who have had too much to drink can’t tell the difference until much later and then they have to pay to quickly get rid of them so it most be a thriving trade.

I visited a Sikh temple (there are approx 10 across Delhi), while I was there and you have to keep your elbows and knees covered as well as your head. This applies to men as well as women so they sell coverings just for this purpose. Alternatively bring a scarf like I did. You have to be barefoot as well but there is water later on to clean the dust away. You can’t take pictures of the insides of the temple but its marvellous.

I found the kitchens amazing in that they cook for hundreds of thousands of on daily basis. The poor of the region get there 3 daily meals for free as well as being able to spend as much time there in quiet contemplation as they liked since there were no set services. You can volunteer to cook there as my mum did and its open to all regardless of colour, creed, race, heritage, religion, age, wealth. The rich sit with the poor cross legged on the floor eating the same food but its funded only by those that can afford to contribute. They feed you until you are full and Indian food is surprisingly filling, allowing you to take your leftovers home with you as its like the Indian Welfare State they are providing here. There were several sittings a day and it was never empty. They never ran out of food and only rested for a couple of hours at night to make sure that they could complete there never ending duty once again the next day. We didn’t eat there as we didn’t have time to wait but the goodness of these people is astonishing.

Talking of kindness we visited the Mohandas Gandhi memorial gardens and they have a flame there that is tended so that it never comes out. Mahatma is a title that is given to Gandhi to show reverence to all that he achieved for India peacefully. Its lovely and peaceful which is a complete contrast to the bustling metropolis that is New Delhi. They are side by side with Old Delhi also being referred to as Shahjahanabad. This is because the city was found by Shah Jahan. He was a Muslim so the city has abad appended onto the end to indicate that its not only his city but an Islamic one too. If it was Hindi it would be pur on the end like Jaipur which I will talk about later.

We also visited Humanyun’s tomb which is a magnificent building in the Taj Mahal (Crown palace) style. This is a striking contrast to the rest of the buildings that people live in on a daily basis. The mughuls that lived there are descended from the Mongolians and its where we get the phrase media mogul from to indicate how much wealth someone has accumulated. The palaces are full of marble and inlaid with precious stones. They have gardens and fountains to replicate the heavens as the word paradise comes from a walled garden. They had more wealth than the average person could gain in a thousand lifetimes as the average life time income after 50 years was £2.

Chandri Chowk is a street that you will pass by often if you are exploring the historical district and it means Moonlight street. This is connected with the daughter of the ruler at the time. There were 5 Shahs that you will hear about when you are driving between the different attractions and if your guide is anything like mine was, it will be information overload. I loved hearing all the history and the word origins as I’m a bit of a word nut as you may know.

There are many temples (Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist etc) in Delhi as you might have guessed and as we were walking about we came across a Jain temple. These are strict vegetarians and have rather odd rituals for their priests during celebrations. They are in fact not allowed to wear a stitch of clothing and therefore the family surround them so that nobody is embarrassed by this. This parade happens from the temple to the family home so it can go on for quite a while. Luckily I didn’t see this but I was reliably informed by my guide who was turning out to be extremely well informed on everything to do with Delhi’s monuments and history.

We passed by the India Gate which was built by Edward Lutyens (who also designed the gardens in Sandwich, UK amongst many other things). He also designed many buildings in Delhi which were beloved by William Dalrymple but sadly are gone now. I read some pages of an amazing book by him (A City of Djinns) provided by the hotel but I didn’t get very far and it didn’t seem right to take it with me. I wouldn’t have had time to read it much anyway as the time was so packed with places to see. I got to read more about the East India Company later in a hotel magazine in an article written by him.

The Red Fort that acted as barracks for the soldiers in Delhi has apparently been hollowed out by previous occupants so we saw the one in Agra which is amazing. More on that later as the next stop is Agra which is home of the Taj Mahal!

Best wishes

Angela

 

Parsis and Zoroastrians

This is a book I started reading in my hotel in Mumbai as there is a big population of them there and I was curious to find out more about them. As far as I know they don’t exists anywhere else in the world.

Freddie Mercury (Farrokh Balsara) was the most famous one as far as I can tell but I didn’t even know that myself until I had watched Bohemian Rhapsody which is an awesome movie. Zoroastrianism also turns up in Nietzsche as he wrote Thus spoke Zarathustra which is the name of their God. Although it’s a much changed version according to the book’s author which I’m afraid I don’t recall.

I had a spare day since Covid 19 had cancelled my city tour so I settled down to read through a photographic journey of the life of the author so far. The writer grew up in the Parsi culture in Bombay but was educated elsewhere so that is why they were able to explain in English so well a religion that is not well known in the rest of the world.

Parsis is the cultural name given to Zoroastrians to separate them from anyone else that was living in India. The Parsis are originally from Persia but left due to persecution from Islamic forces long ago. However, they were followed much later on so became very insular. Where as before they were at the forefront of business and became very rich a bit like the Jews of Europe .This fear and persecution has contributed to their downfall in the eyes of the author since they will soon no longer be numerous enough to be considered a community (30,000+). At this point (25,000) they will now be labelled a tribe. There is a very big emphasis on staying within your community and they will provide for you that’s why this downgrading of their status is such a big deal to them.

I was unable to get more than half way through the book as I had to leave the next day but the information about the lives of the children who were becoming priests was fascinating. It is part of the culture for at least one boy in the family to learn how to be a priest even if they subsequently decide that is not the field that they want to go into.

India – Taj Mahal at Agra

India – Agra

India – Delhi (part 1)

Best wishes

Angela

The Current War

This is a movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch (yes him of the completely unpronounceable and unspellable name).

In this movie it seeks to understand the reasons behind the battle that took place between Edison’s Direct Current and Tesla’s/Westinghouse’s Alternative Current. Or as I explained to my husband, how the band AC/DC came to be;)

Ben plays Edison who we all know won the battle of who could light up America first. It was the first of the alternating technology battles (Betamax/VHS etc) that proved its not the best that wins but the one that is promoted the most and therefore more popular.

Social skills win over talent as people are much more willing to invest in a person who is like them selling them a dream rather than an engineer who can actually produce that idea. This is why Tesla loses out but it’s far more complex than that.

Of course in between the 2 remaining guys Westinghouse and Edison; they start to play dirty. They use underhand tactics to undermine the others reputation and products. Speed and efficiency are good but money is king in business. The Serbian immigrant is taken advantage of because all he has is his mind when he has sold his patents. As he is unable to communicate his ideas in a way that others understand they belittle him.

Watching a movie like this on a plane doesn’t do it justice. I couldn’t read the historical facts which are presented at the beginning and the end of the movie to separate the facts from the dramatization.

I definitely need to watch this again as the sound quality through the headphones was quite poor and in a movie that isn’t action based, you need to be able to hear the dialogue. I’m sorry I can’t give a very articulate review but I was only able to get the gist of the film.

Best wishes

Angela

Babies on Netflix

This is an in-depth look at the differences in children caused by parenting styles. It also seeks to find out about the social development of a child. It looks to see how responsive they are initially and incrementally.

In the first of 6 episodes they analyse oxytocin (the love hormone involved in bonding) counts in both mothers and fathers to see how it differs across pregnancy, child rearing, culture and whether the child has 2 dads, is a 3 parent family so 2 dads and the surrogate mum or a mum and a dad. Additionally they scan the brains of the adults participating to see the sizes of there hippocampus and whether there activated or not. This area is responsible for learning and is bigger in children with more distant parents leading to the refrigerator theory of the 1960s. This is not what causes autism and has since been disproved.

They also measure the cortisol (stress hormone) levels using the still face test. This is where the mum plays with and talks to the child, then sits back unresponsive to see how the child copes with this. The children notice immediately that something is different and then try to figure out what has caused. Eventually they all start crying and self soothe by putting there fingers in there mouths. When the parent returns to normal behaviour the children may over react initially but they gradually return to their happy selves.

I thought this may be the origins of thumb sucking, pacifiers/dummies, nail biting, over eating and smoking as this is all self soothing behaviour by sticking things in our mouths.

They go on to look at the other major aspects of a child’s life like food, crawling, first words, sleep which I thought they would have covered earlier and first steps.

I think this is going to be a fascinating series to watch regardless of whether you have children or not as we were all once children ourselves.

Athens by Dr Michael Scott on This is Greece

This is part 2 of a five part series on PBS. Part 1 is Northern and Central Greece, Part 3 The Peloponnesus, Part 4 is the Cyclades Islands and Part 5 is the The Dodecanese Islands .

I have been to Athens and I wrote about it previously when I visited at New Year. I haven’t been back since as it took some getting used to.

I must not having been paying attention when this was on in September and just recently during the week and on at the weekend. As it’s an American show I can’t stream it and I can’t find it anywhere else but I have written about The Parthenon which is a major part of the history of Athens.

Best wishes

Angela

The Peloponnesus area of Greece by Dr Michael Scott on This is Greece

It may not surprise you to learn that I have visited this area of Greece too in addition to Lefkás. My reasons are generally not so virtuous as those of Dr Michael Scott or David Suchet though who does the narration in This is Greece. This is a 5 part series which they recently repeated on PBS so I got to watch the rest which mysteriously vanished from the scheduling before I could write about it.

To recap he first went to Northern and Central Greece which I wrote about in This is Greece on PBS with Michael Scott. In the second episode he goes to Athens itself. In this episode he goes to the Peloponnesus area that surrounds Athens. Afterwards visits the Cyclades Islands (Circular) in the Aegean and then finishes in the The Dodecanese Islands.

I have been to Athens but not to the Cyclades or the Dodecanese.

Generally when we go on a road trip as well as history, it will take in at least one winery. This allows us to bring back a supply that is the freshest and since it is from the source it is the cheapest too. Considering how much we have to celebrate in our lives it is a worthwhile investment.

Best wishes

Angela

The Dodecanese Islands by Dr Michael Scott on This is Greece

This is the final part of This is Greece with Dr Michael Scott having first visited Northern and Central Greece, Athens, The Peloponnesus area of Greece, and, Cyclades Islands.

The Dodecanese (12) Islands contain Rhodes which is a fantastic historical island especially for someone like me who has an interest in the Durell family as Laurence lived there writing a book about the island which I’m yet to read. That one was called Reflections of a Marine Venus. You can visit his house Villa Kleobolus while your there too.

Rhodes was subject to many invasions over the years so it’s been fortified accordingly. It has been ruled by first the Romans then the British as part of the Crusades and the famous knights of St John or the knights hosiptaller, the Venetians spent some time here, it was owned by the Ottomans but they kept the locals ruling and it was later passed on to the Italians before finally gaining there independence.

Leros is the next stop on the tour but our guide is now an Athenian lady Elenor. There is Byzantine, medieval, Ottoman, Venetian and Italian history here just like Rhodes. Sunsets are of course a big selling point along with churches dating from the knights of St John. If your a film buff you will want to visit the island as it’s the inspiration for the film Guns of Navarone.

He also travels to Patmos famous for being the place where the biblical book of Revelations was written by St John with many churches dedicated to him, a monastery as well as its many windmills.

Symi turns up too. St Michael is the patron saint here with a magnificent church dedicated to himself as he is also patron saint of sailors in the Dodecanese.

As usual with American programs the first and the last are the most interesting with the ones in the middle being mainly composed on second grade material. He even gets other people to do tour guides for you!

Best wishes

Angela

What does Greek have against punctuation?

This is a clip that a friend of mine posted online with Greek and English plus an auto translation below.

What confuses me the most when trying to figure out the Greek language is where do you take a breath? There are no commas, semi colons or full stops. There isn’t even any speech marks, exclamation marks or question marks!

The Greeks also have a love of sentences that start with And. I think this maybe because they are trying to artificially add in punctuation in newspaper articles. It’s very confusing trying to figure out which words belong in which sentence since they run on forever!

Spanish I think may have the opposite problem of using exclamation marks at the beginning as well as the end. Kind of like the Spanish themselves being very enthusiastic.

I haven’t learnt sufficient about other languages like Russian yet, to be able to comment properly; but from what I’ve seen far they don’t seem to have the same issues.

Do you have any issues like this in languages you have learnt?

Best wishes

Angela