The Cosmic Bridge

I promised you in the last post that I would be back to talk about the The Bridge of San Louis Rey and guess what???!!!! Surprise!!! Surprise!! I am going to talk about The Bridge of San Louis Rey.

Now I know this book is one of the modern classics (I am still to completely understand that term!) and it won Thornton Wilder his first of the three Pulitzers and Yada yada yada!!  I am not a person who goes with Pulitzer and Nobel. I mean I fell in love with Orhan Pamuk, way back in my sophomore year when no one or at least a very limited population knew him outside Turkey! On the other hand, there is J.M. Coetzee and I know a lot of you out there swear by him, but I do not understand him at all and gave up on him after Disgrace! (I could not understand Lucy marrying her rapist!) Give me a good yarn with some creative language and I am a sucker for that work, though the world in general may have never heard of it! So, though this book was on my list, it was never a top priority, nor did I go out of my way to find and read it. Until, one fine morning while doing some online shopping for some exotic books (will tell you about them later!) I came across a discounted copy of the book and decided on whim to buy it! It was bought more like a task… a necessary chore that needed to be completed in the journey of reading through every type of fiction in print!

Then the inevitable happened….like all love stories, the thing that one ignores the most, one ends up falling in love (trust me! I speak from experience!), I fell in love with The Bridge of San Louis Rey.

Thorton Wilder was born to an US diplomat in 1897 and spent his early childhood in China. All his siblings were accomplished scholars and writers; in fact his elder brother was the Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. He began his career as a writer with the publication of The Cabala in 1927 and spent the next 40 years writing – his last work to be published was Theophilus North in 1973. Through his life he won three Pulitzer Prizes, the first one as mentioned in 1928 for The Bridge of San Louis Rey and two more for his plays – Our Town in 1938 and The Skin of Your Teeth in 1942.

The Bridge of San Louis Rey is set in 18th century Peru, where on a fateful day of July 20th 1714, the bridge spanning the San Luis Rey, built by Incas a century earlier, snaps and plunges to death 5 people. This tragedy is witnessed by Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk, who then sets out to find more details about the lives of the 5 people and understand why things happen? Are some actions fated or does being good or innocent help in bringing on a definite life and its end? Or does the universe work according to a random cosmic plan? The book then explores the lives of the 5 characters –

  • Doña María, the Marquesa de Montemayor : The lonely Marquesa who spends all her efforts in trying to get closer to her daughter who had married an aristocrat across the oceans in Spain, to get away from her mother.
  • Pepita: An orphan girl raised at the Convent of Santa María Rosa de la Rosas and sent by the Abbess of the convent to act as a companion to the Marquesa as part of her training, albeit unknown to her as the heir to the Abbess in the management of the Convent.
  • Esteban: Another orphan raised again at Convent of Santa María Rosa de la Rosas, and who begins to work as a scribe in the theater along with his twin brother Manuel
  • Uncle Pio; The mentor, guide and protector of the actress Camila Perichole, who transforms a 12-year-old mimic called Micaela Villegas into the renowned Camila Perichole and remains faithful to her even when she becomes the mistress of the Viceroy.
  • Don Jaime: Camila Perichole’s son whom Uncle Pio takes with him to train the boy like he had once trained the mother.

The book ends with Dona Clara, daughter of Marquesa de Montemayor coming back to Lima and meeting the Abbess who takes her around the convent. Dona Clara is moved by the sights and sounds of the hospital and the sick and poor being cared for at the Convent. The novel ends with one of the most critical observations on mankind – There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

Written a simple style with some wonderful play of words, this book’s is an easy read in terms of a tale. It covers less than 120 pages. However vis-à-vis a parable or rather a philosophy, the book is unique in the sense, Wilder manages to convey a lot of moral and insightful ideas, without seeming didactic or pedagogic.

This is a must read, but do not read it in a rush, but absorb the language and the ideas as nuggets over a slow afternoon, where you have the night to think them through!

The complete and profound “joy” of gift buying

It’s my best friend who also doubles up as my flatmate’s birthday next week. Next week is also another friend’s birthday as well as another colleague’s whom-I-don’t-like- but-have-to like-for-business-reasons. So what all this translates into is a weekend of shopping for appropriate gifts. Now here’s the thing – I do not like shopping! I think I am one of those abnormal girls who really see’s shopping as a waste of time and does not indulge in it unless her clothes have turned to tatters or the house is falling apart and needs new furnishings! I abhor shopping; the thought of it makes me want to cuddle further in my bed and disappear. It brings back all thetraumatic memories of my childhood where I had to follow my mother around in the malls while she shopped and I sulked because I wanted to buy a book and sit in the ice cream parlour reading it while eating through a double Sunday! Thus with such an amazing baggage I abhor birthday/marriage shopping even more.

I think gift cards are the way to go, but several people have told me that personalized gift buying is more kind and demonstrates you cherish the person more than a cold gift card. Now I do not see what’s wrong with a gift card- give me one and I will spend it in a jiffy in a bookshop. I would much rather prefer it, than have people who have no idea which author I like or do not like gifting me something I really detest (Like Ms Meyer) or something I have purchased centuries ago, but they want to gift it to me because they have recently seen the movie and think it’s a new book (Like John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy- why cannot they Google the publication year and save everybody the trouble is beyond me!) I know it’s the thought that counts and I do appreciate the gesture that this non reading population makes in going to a shop and hunting for stuff which they have no idea about but think I will like, but really I do not need 4 copies of Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul just because he won the nobel prize and I said I like his work at some gathering!

Anyhow, the problem is not only with this non reading population that wants to gift me something; the problem also is what I gift to this non reading population. My flatmate is easy – I gift her some Kinglsey Amis and Terry Pratchet and she is as happy as she can get. My friend is also easy – I will buy her Mircea Eliade’s Bengal Nights and I know she will be one contended kitten. But the problem arises for the third one, the-colleague- whom-I-don’t-like- but-have-to like-for-business-reasons. And it’s not about him but all those upmarket people with scintillating lives and vacations in France with their Gucci/Prada bags and what nots – what to gift them?  My biggest strength in the shopping arena is out of the window – they do not read and I don’t want to give a Salman Rushdie that becomes a decorative piece in their drawing room shelf.  I am not sure what Perfume; oops sorry I believe its eau de cologne, to give them. Like my book reading, they might already have something which I choose or worse horror horror for them, the product I bought is too downmarket. I must add a note about gifts of music –even if they do like music, it will be techno or trance or something where I will be completely out of my depth – which is very much western classical and Jazz and of course I will buy something they will can download or do not like. I have tried changing tactics and buying them business utility products like a leather laptop bag only to have found out later that they have already have a designer bag and mine has been designated to the back of the attic filled with some old family papers which no one cares about. It’s the same with crockeries. I buy a dinner set only to realize that the couple already has 7 of them of which three of them are real bone china. I am bad at buying clothes – the shirts I buy are either too large or have too many check patterns for that person to wear. Most of these people are not close enough for me to splurge on a watch or a piece of jewellery (even if they were close enough- my budget does not permit me to buy a watch for myself, let alone gifting one!…remember I am quintessential struggling writer here) One cannot gift shoes, and pens seem to be too much of a  trifle in today’s days of computers. Flowers are very temporary as are food items like cakes; besides they are more of an addendum gift but hardly the main course if you know what I mean. And though Ralph Waldo Emerson proclaims that “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself”, I am very confident that my friends and acquaintances do not want a portion of me (for many of them knowing me even for a limited period of time with all my quirks and weirdisims might is in itself a challenge) and I definitely do not want to part with any part of myself away from me for them!

So I am stuck….what does one gift a person who has practically everything and is not quite into cultural and what I feel eminently more giftable interests like reading or music (my kind). So I am reverting back to the good old gift card – buy it, fill it, gift it and forget about it. I cannot personalize the gift card, but atleast I know the person I am picking it up for will end up using it for something he or she likes or wants instead of me  giving them something they do not like or want!!!