by Andrew Clover
As anyone who has become a parent recently will know there are a plethora of books available to help you get through those first few weeks, months, years. The sheer volume of titles is in itself unhelpful before we even start to consider how contradictory they all are. Driven through desperation to actually consult the health service with a question you will usually be greeted by the stock reply: 'Well, every baby is different' ('Yes, but is its vomit supposed to be green or do we have an exorcist-style situation going on here?').
Driven by a similar regard for the 200-plus page tomes he saw, Andrew Colver decided to write this book (you may have come across his musings in the Sunday Times Style magazine in the Dad Rules column) which he begins by condensing his parenting experience into three sentences
1) Don't be reading two-hundred page books. Try to sleep.
2) Don't let them suck too long, or mum's nip will really hurt.
3) Get out of the way when they puke.
That gives you a pretty good idea of the tone. Clover is a comedian and actor, so the book is filled with great one-liners. There have been plenty of jokes made about the emotional state of a woman in labour but nobody has put it quite so well as he does: 'You don't mess with a woman in labour. Even if she decides she wants to eat the baby, I'll back her up.'
He doesn't do much to dispel the myth that men are just big boys until they're forced to grow up by a woman (and even then they're just pretending to be grown up) but his innocence/ignorance makes him an entertaining guide into the world of parenting. What he really discovers is how to be happy. As we follow his stuttering acting career, his reliance on the weed to cope with comedy gigs, childcare, and just about anything really, he slowly learns to trust his instincts when looking after his daughters. If you're knackered, get creative:
'"You know what would be a really nasty trick?" I say. "If I fell asleep and, when I woke up, someone had painted all over my back."
I put my head on the table, and have a quiet doze. They paint my back. It's absolutely delicious. It feels like I'm being massaged by fairies.'
There are some refreshingly honest thoughts from a male perspective too.
'They say that women forget the pain of childbirth or they'd never do it again. Similarly, men must forget the pain of living with a pregnant woman, or the whole world would be like China. Families would have one child each. They'd also have fewer wardrobes.'
He does occasionally sound a little sentimental, as when he mentions that all his friends have become famous or disappeared but that's ok because he's bred two perfect companions. And as someone who can only dream of living in a place like Muswell Hill, the hard luck/no money story wore a little thin but where this book really succeeds is not with childcare philosophy or any kind of life lessons but with the relentless sense of humour which reminds you that as hard as it is, as tiring as it can be, it's still the best thing you'll ever do.
Sunday, 30 November 2008
Friday, 28 November 2008
The Savage Detectives
by Roberto Bolaño
I had a very strange experience whilst reading the early pages of this novel. Waiting in the award winning Madrid airport for a connecting flight I noticed a painting by Jack Vetriano on the front cover of the book being read by a man opposite me. I glanced at the title and was surprised to see 'Los Detectives Salvajes', the very same book I held my own hands. How a painting by a Scottish artist gets on the cover of the Spanish language version of a Chilean novelist's book set for the most part in Mexico I have no idea. But it almost seems appropriate (more so than than the equally unattractive UK version above) for this particular book, which takes the reader on a journey through Latin America and across Europe, with voices from all over the world, a true literary odyssey.
That this novel has received almost universal praise from critics is no great surprise. It is a novel all about writing, about books, and it is filled with an ardour for its subject which is infectious. Some characters are compelled to steal them, or to produce them, to take great pleasure in looking at or touching them. There is often a rhythm to the prose which leads you around its pages like a man leading his dance partner around the room, and Bolaño is a man who knows the dance, who knows how to lead. The first section of the book comes in the form of a diary written by seventeen year old Juan Garcia Madero, a budding poet who guides us through the last two months of 1975 in Mexico City. It is a short period of time but an eventful one for our orphan narrator who joins the visceral realist poetic movement, is virtually adopted by a family, has lots of sex and ends up speeding out of the city in a white Ford Impala pursued by a pimp and his heavies. And that's just the first 120 pages.
It is a riotous start that introduces us to a huge cast list of characters. Important amongst them are Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, the leaders of the visceral realist movement. Belano functions as an an alter-ego of the author, whilst his compadre has a name which on its own conjures up the work of James Joyce and that original Greek odyssey. That love of books I mentioned earlier is shown here firstly by the theft these young poets indulge in from local bookstores, an act which is not so much motivated by their politics as by their poverty, and also in the production of their own magazine, Lee Harvey Oswald, a name at once political and yet ridiculous. The group is riven by infighting, with expulsions occurring like mini-revolutions and its members manage to pull off the feat of sounding simultaneously educated and stupid. In one hilarious episode we hear an example of their erudition.
Ernesto San Epifanio had said that all literature could be classified as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Novels, in general, were heterosexual, whereas poetry was completely homosexual; I guess short stories were bisexual, although he didn't say so. Within the vast ocean of poetry he identified various currents: faggots, queers, sissies, freaks, butches, fairies, nymphs, and philienes. But the two major currents were faggots and queers. Walt Whitman, for example, was a faggot poet. Pablo Neruda was a queer. William Blake was definitely a faggot. Octavio Paz was queer. Borges was philene, or in other words he might be a faggot one minute and simply asexual the next. Ruben Dario was a freak, in fact the queen freak, the prototypical freak.
This rant goes on for three pages in which he explains that 'the poetry scene was essentially an (underground) battle, the result of a struggle between faggot poets and queer poets to seize the word'. For those with a better understanding of the surrealist poetical movements of Latin America in the 1970's this is probably even funnier, but there's plenty enough there for me thank you very much. There is wicked sense of humour running through almost every exchange and if we're not laughing with them we can often laugh at them.
Madero's sexual initiation comes courtesy of his contact with the Font family. At its head is Quim Font, an architect whose mind is slowly falling to pieces, who had designed the only two issues of Lee Harvey Oswald. His two daughters are the focal point for the attentions of many of the local males. Bolaño creates a feeling close to siege by having them live in a small house within the courtyard of the Font compound and this feeling will turn into an actual siege situation when Quim provides refuge to Lupe, a prostitute in hiding from her pimp. It is this situation which enforces the flight of Belano, Lima and Madero into the desert and it isn't until the final section of the book that we will find out, from the continuation of Madero's diary, where that takes them.
The majority of the book comes in the middle section entitled The Savage Detectives. It comes in the form of interview-like monologues, an oral history spanning 20 years, where people recount their experiences of Belano and Lima but also of course the parts they themselves have played in history. The range of personalities Bolaño creates is simply staggering, it reminded me of the cacophany of character which features in William Gaddis' gargantuan The Recognitions which drew a similarly riotous picture of the American art scene. From the wistful mezcal-soaked reminiscence of Amadeo Salvatierra, to the increasingly insane ramblings of the now incarcerated Quim Font, Bolaño knows how to make contrast work. One jaw-dropping example comes after we have heard a calm recollection from the old man of stridentism, Manuel Maples Arce on being interviewed by Belano, who finishes up by saying 'All poets, even the most avant-garde, need a father. But these poets were meant to be orphans.' We then meet Barbara Patterson, who had accompanied Belano that day, whose opening gambit is 'Motherfucking hemorrhoid-licking old bastard, I saw the distrust in his pale, bored little monkey eyes right from the start, and I said to myself this asshole will take every chance he gets to spit on me, the motherfucking son of a bitch.' How's that for contrast?
Some pieces extend to several pages almost like short stories within the text, like Auxilio Lacouture, the 'mother of Mexican poetry' who tells the story of her siege at the university during the campus violence of 1968. Or Norman Bolzman, a Mexican Jew, who comes close to summing up the style of this middle section when he says
'I'm just trying to tell a story. Maybe I'm also trying to to understand its hidden workings, workings I wasn't aware of at the time but that weigh on me now. Still, my story won't be as coherent as I'd like. And my role in it will flicker like a speck of dust between the light and the dark, between laughter and tears, exactly like a Mexican soap opera or a Yiddish melodrama.'
When we do finally get back to the diary of Madero we join the fugitives as they search for Cesárea Tinajero, the original founder of visceral realism, whose body of work has been reduced to a few scraps and who may not even still be alive. With the look we have been given at the future of some of these characters there is a very different feel to this final section, the vibrancy and feelings of invincibility have diminished; which doesn't necessarily make for a muted close, if I ran out of steam anywhere it was towards the end of the middle section, but there is a sadness that wasn't there before. The fact that Madero doesn't appear once in the oral history leads us to wonder why it is our 'hero' should disappear.
I'm really struggling to do the book justice here. There are much better reviews to be read here and here and probably elsewhere too but I can only say that to go on a ride with Bolaño is a drink, drug and sex-fuelled escapade that leaves you invigorated, your head tingling like you've been for a drive with the top down. It's certainly unlike anything I've read before and that change in tone towards the end of the novel points towards the publication next year of his final work, the apocalyptically titled '2666'. I'm ready and willing for the journey.
Thursday, 27 November 2008
A Long, Long Way
by Sebastian Barry
After reading and enjoying The Secret Scripture courtesy of dovegreyreader it seemed only prudent to take heed of her claim that his previous novel was for her 'the best book that never won the Booker'. Quite a statement, on a topic which has even spawned its own competition in the blogosphere (in which Barry failed to make the cut). We won't get into a debate now about which books should have won when, but I think it's fair to say that in 2005, in a very strong field, John Banville's 'The Sea' was a surprise winner. Not having read it myself I can't really comment, but I loved a couple of the others and A Long Long Way absolutely floored me. I'm not a man given to tears and maybe I was just a bit tired but as I read the final few pages of this book I wept like a great big girly.
Before writing this post I had the good fortune to read an essay by Keith Jeffery in the Times Literary Supplement, in which he wrote about the Irish perspective on The Great War, in particular how this was expressed through theatre. Sean O'Casey's 'The Silver Tassie' (which was later adapted into an opera) and Frank McGuiness's much later play 'Observe The Sons Of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme' are two famous examples. Many men from Ireland fought for the Allied forces on the understanding that there would be Home Rule once victory had been won in Europe (many men from Ulster joined up for the very opposite reason of course but as Barry says in this book 'It was a deep, dark maze of intentions, anyhow'). But the shifting of Irish politics continued whilst those men were away, culminating in the Easter Rising of 1916 and life for Irish soldiers in the British Army became increasingly tough, seen as unreliable at best by those they served with and treacherous if not treasonable by those at home. There has been a popular conception that the fallout from the war, when it did eventually end, resulted in a form of national amnesia, with many people choosing to forget that those they knew might have fought for the British whilst Republicans were being killed at home, something that Jeffery refutes with his very interesting essay.
Barry's novel picks up on many of these themes. His hero is Willie Dunne, son of a policeman, whose 'damnable height' never reaches the six foot mark that would allow him to follow in his father's footsteps. Instead he sees his opportunity to make his father proud and impress Gretta Lawlor, the girl he yearns for, by signing up with Royal Dublin Fusiliers and going away to war. Dunne (sister to Annie Dunne the subject of Barry's 2002 novel of the same name) is a perfect narrator for this story, young and relatively innocent, his confusion is our confusion, and this conflict is one in which naivety is everywhere. As a reader I found myself wincing just with the concept of signing up 'for the duration', knowing that the war would last so long. Barry handles his first set piece brilliantly, the spectre of a yellow cloud moving toward the trenches and the bedlam unleashed as the poisoned gas takes its deadly toll is genuinely terrifying. As much for us, who know what is coming towards them, as for them who have no idea. Knowledge is no protector as he shows with the second gas attack. Armed with masks this time there is the even more terrifying prospect of remaining in place and allowing the gas to pass over, the efficacy of military hardware as much a problem then as it is now. It is something which Dunne himself never really recovers from, his sorrow at losing Captain Pasley, who remains behind in the trenches even though it means death, changes:
'...something had happened to that sorrow. It had gone rancid in him, he thought; it had boiled down to something he didn't understand. The pith of sorrow was in the upshot a little seed of death.'
Almost worse than what he suffers on the front are the trips he makes back home. The first of these places him right amongst the Easter Rising as it happens and he is traumatised again by witnessing the death of a rebel at close hand. Our young hero begins to feel the stirrings of his self, begins to form opinions, starts to do what he had been exhorted to do by Gretta's father: to 'know his own mind'. And this places him in conflict with his father. This is one of the great themes of the book and the letters that pass between Willie and his father have a great significance, as letters must have done, and still do, in war time. But with the un-mooring of that security he felt at home he finds life on the front harder and harder to deal with.
The conflict between the various factions of Irish politics are seen in microcosm in the army and given a grand event in the boxing match which pits Ulsterman against Southerner, two giants of men who trade blows whilst the assembled men shout from around the hall. The epic fight almost silences the crowd and when one man finally fells the other, in spite of the bragging rights which inevitably go to the victor's side there is a new found respect between the two groups of men. Barry certainly has great skills in creating memorable characters: Christy Moran, the Sergeant-Major with a filthy mouth provides most of the one-liners, his clowning keeping morale high. Father Buckley provides spiritual support as well as an ear to confide fears and doubts. A fellow soldier, Jesse Kirwan, who Willie encounters first in Dublin during the rebel uprising, becomes the focal point of Willie's political maturation.
As the title suggests, music plays an enormously important role, in particular the singing amongst the men and this is his other great achievement in the book. Barry allows the prose to become infused in musical language so that in the theatre of war 'grief was as common as whistle tunes', and it is only the men there fighting (rather than the officers safely away from the battle) that know 'the drear paintings and the atrocious music of the front line'. Amongst the men, music becomes the great leveller, as when their Captain requests that they sing 'Do Your Balls Hang Low'. Willie himself is blessed with a great voice and in a beautifully rendered scene he sings Ave Maria 'for these ruined men, these doomed listeners, these wretched fools of men come out to fight a war without a country to their name'. It is hard to steer a course that avoids sentimentality when dealing with these scenes and it is to Barry's credit that he avoids not just that but also what Jeffery calls 'the flawed understanding of the war, including constant casualties, incessant misery, homoerotic trench relationships and the rest.'
As someone who has read very little literature of The Great War I feel that I have learnt not just something of the grim realities of warfare but, through the sympathetic creation of a character like Willie Dunne, something of that notion of sacrifice which has played such a huge part in its depiction in our culture.
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Our Story Begins
by Tobias Wolff
When John Self use the phrase 'my favourite book of the year so far' in September then it's time to sit up and take notice. Doubly so when it's an author you've had no contact with so far. I've been trying trying to fall in love with the short story this year by reading some of the established masters (Carver, Cheever, Chekhov - as they used to say on Sesame Street: these stories were brought to you by the letters C, E and V - weird). Wolff in fact worked with Carver on the faculty of Syracuse University and the cover of this collection proudly proclaims Wolff as the greatest living exponent of the form, bringing together 21 of his previously published stories with 10 new works. As someone new to his work (bar having watched the film adaptation of This Boys Life) it provided a brilliant overview of his writing and certainly compels me, as John suggested it might, to search out more.
There are two things that strike me about his writing. First of all is the accessibility. Wolf's language is uncomplicated, the speech colloquial, but written with the playwright's skill of making a few words mean so much more. John has quoted a great example of Wolff's showiest dialogue but he can also do understatement like this example in his story about a very male kind of friendship in 'Flyboys'.
'I waited while Freddy went into the barn, and when he came back outside I said, "We're going to move." Though no one had told me any such thing, those words came to mind and it felt right to say them.
Freddy handed me a shovel. "Where to?"
"I don't know."
"I'm not sure."
We started back.
"I hope you don't move," Freddy said.
"Maybe we won't," I said "Maybe we'll end up staying."
"That would be great, if you stayed."
"There's no place like home."
"Home is where the heart is," Freddy said, but he was looking at the ground just ahead of him and didn't smile back at me.'
Often it is the perfectly chosen phrase or detail which Wolff gets to work so well for him: the boarding house 'heavy with the smells that disheartened people allow themselves to cultivate' or the 'lollipop-red' sports car in which one man drives to visit his dying mother, a car which, given the occasion, he admits is 'maybe a little festive'.
The second thing is the aspect to his writing for which I gather he is well known: morality. In many of the stories he forces his characters to show honestly which direction their moral compass is facing. Sometimes he does this blatantly, as in 'The White Bible', where a school teacher, on her way home after drinks with friends, is effectively kidnapped by the father of one of her pupils. His wish for his son Hassan to become a doctor stands in jeapordy, the teacher having caught him cheating in an exam. As he forces her to drive, he calls into question her own morals; first her drinking, then hypocrisy, even the fact that she teaches at a Catholic school without actually being Catholic herself (his indignation here making himself a hypocrite). The enforced parent-teacher conference allows Wolff to explore many of their moral facets, and having placed Maureen in a position of physical danger he allows the dramatic tension to shift slowly in the teachers favour until it is she who is in the position of power, who holds the fate of this man in her hands, but still unresolved what she will do with the future of Hassan which she also controls.
These morality tales are sometimes resolved in some sense, like the slap delivered by a policewoman to the smooth talking lawyer in 'The Deposition', but more often they are allowed to hang there, the questions raised, the points of view expressed with honesty and the conclusion, the answer, the moral of the tale left for us to decide or infer. In 'The Night In Question' Wolff has the confidence to make an actual moral quandary the centre of his story, delivering it with the gripping intensity of a thriller, only to then leave it unfinished and show that this is really a story about a sister's love for her brother. Brilliant and brave stuff.
In one of the shortest stories, 'Say Yes', which is just five pages, he manages to pull apart a relationship as a couple wash the dishes. The man thinks inter-racial relationships are a bad idea,
'"A person form their culture and a person from our culture could never really know each other." "Like you know me?" His wife asked. "Yes. Like I know you."
When he returns from the bathroom with a plaster for her cut finger she is ready for him: 'I'm black, but still me, and we fall in love. Will you marry me?'. They say that there's no such thing as a wrong answer but this isn't always the case in relationships. We are willing him to say the right thing and when he doesn't and the two of them break away from each other like balls on a pool table Wolff shows first the man's ability to recognise his wife's demonstrations of indifference (thereby showing the trouble he's in) and finally, crucially, the uncertainty of ever really knowing anyone.
I could right a whole post on just that one story to be honest. There is a richness to these stories which isn't necessarily apparent at first, perhaps because of the language he uses or the lack of pyrotechnics stylistically. Only once did I find myself thinking that the set-up was a bit tricksy ('Her Dog', in which a man conducts a 'conversation' with his deceased partner's dog) and even then he justifies it by using it describe a relationship, two relationships, with crystal clarity. When Wolff allows those skills to take flight with a longer story like 'Desert Breakdown, 1968' you have a heady concoction filled with symbolism, driven with energy and punch, a story I can't begin to do justice to here. The best thing would be for you to read it yourself. And all the rest too obviously. You won't regret it.
Monday, 24 November 2008
Before you enter Annie Leibovitz's new show it is possible for everyone to see four images from her now infamous shoot with the Queen. As we stood there looking at them my wife overheard someone saying 'She looks so regal, I mean that is royalty'. They are indeed rather austere and there is a very strange quality to them; they don't look real. The Queen looks more like a waxwork placed in a dramatic setting and the lighting looks forced making the pictures look more like paintings than photographs, which may indeed be the point, but actually sucks the life out of them as portraits. Once you actually get inside the retrospective is a combination of her celebrity portraits, personal photos of family and friends (including many of her partner Susan Sontag), reportage from Sarajevo and even her first work in landscape. It is a curious mixture, and it really is mixed up. The portrait of a pregnant Demi Moore is surrounded by her reportage from Sarajevo, one of which, a striking image of an abandoned bicycle and a vicious swipe of blood, the remnants of a mortar falling, shows all too clearly this juxtaposition of life and death.
Death is obviously something which haunts this exhibition. The photographs documenting the illness and death of Susan Sontag are bound to divide people. I personally found the later ones a little ghoulish and uncomfortable, finding far more in the more relaxed pictures she had taken of them both on their travels together or simply lounging around at home or in hotels. It was Sontag who had encouraged Leibovitz to take more personal photos and it these for me which are the most interesting to look at. There isn't much to be gained from seeing the familiar pictures of celebrities from magazines blown up, although her portraits of politicians I found slightly more interesting mainly due to the benefit of hindsight. Given what we know now it's difficult not to snigger at her picture of Bill Clinton in the Oval Office perched confidently on the desk with one hand lying in his lap. The group picture of Bush's White House team (looking much younger) shows the traits they went on to exhibit during both of his terms: the reptilian smirk of Dick Cheney, the demonstrative seriousness of Condoleezza Rice and the arrogant raised eyebrow of Donald Rumsfeld, all in the one picture.
But with her pictures of friends and family there is real life and love. They are the kind of candid photos we all take but whether it's family gatherings or the informal shots of her parents on the beach or getting out of bed they show her skills at composition transferred to a more immediate form than the studio photography which dominates the rest of the show. It is a shame that for the most part these images are so small, I couldn't help but think that they would have benefited from enlarging in a way the editorial images didn't. One picture which she has taken of her mother tells a great story. Her mother was afraid of looking old whilst Leibovitz of course was unafraid of showing her exactly as she was, keen in fact to get away from the family tradition of always smiling in photos. She found herself weeping behind the camera as she shot. Her parents disliked the picture when they saw it, but I think it has the kind of honesty and affection which can make a much more compelling portrait. Just imagine if she'd been given the opportunity to take a similar photograph of The Queen.
Saturday, 22 November 2008
I'm going to keep this brief. There was something quite joyful about The Killers performance at 2005's Glastonbury. Togged up in a white tuxedo jacket with a hint of eyeliner and poised behind his glittery keyboard like some kind of glamorous preacher Brandon Flowers cut quite a figure and stirred up the crowds with rousing renditions of hits from Hot Fuss. Sam's Town was a little more po-faced, the Springsteen sound and moustaches making him look like a slightly less glamorous preacher. So it should be good news that their new album sees a return of the synth pop.
But it's all gone a bit 80's. Fine when it's inoffensively Roxy Music like opening track 'Losing Touch'. Worrying when it's Wham (amongst others) on 'Joy Ride', which even contains a sax solo. And it's just plain baffling when the backing vocals on 'This Is Your Life' remind you of the 'a-wimba-way' from Tight Fit's 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'. It sounds in places ('I Can't Stay') like Brandon's finger slipped on the keyboard and changed the setting of a song suddenly to marimba or steel drums or perhaps they wanted to showcase the full range of settings available on the latest Bontempi. 'Goodnight, Travel Well' eschews the 80's in favour of trying to sound like Radiohead which is better but probably best left to the boys themselves.
Lyrically there's plenty to worry about too. He may be referencing Hunter S Thompson but 'Are we human, or are we dancer?' still sounds like he's singing from a lyric sheet with a typo. 'A Dustland Fairtytale' couldn't be more cliched with Cinderella and the Devil amongst 'castles in the sky' and 'moon river'. Elsewhere there's lots of grand sounding statements to fit the grand sounding songs which are sure to please festival crowds once more and radio listeners alike. Unfortunately it all sounds a little hollow to me. However if you've enjoyed the latest from Kings of Leon and Keane (ooh, bit of a K thing developing here) then jump on board and enjoy the (joy) ride.
Friday, 21 November 2008
I'm back. And whilst I'm washing the sand from my undies, and before I get round to reviewing my reading, I thought I'd post a couple of observations from Gran Canaria.
- The Spanish have not implemented a smoking ban. This is because smoking seems to be the national pastime. They smoke everywhere, all the time, on the move, and mostly strong cigarettes. This kind of ruins the whole alfresco eating thing for an ex-smoker-parent like me.
- The Spanish love children. I mean absolutely love them (although they don't let this get in the way of smoking- many mothers have perfected the art of holding a child, smoking and gesticulating during conversation at the same time). I think my son thinks he's famous after all the attention he received whilst out and about. He looked quite put out once back in London where, let's be honest, you have to work pretty hard to get anyone to look up from reading their free newspaper.
- The Spanish don't seem to have heard of high chairs. You either have the child on your lap or feed them in their buggy. As a result our buggy now looks like a lost work by Jackson Pollock.
- I love those lovely bits of literal translation which can make reading a menu a confusing experience. My two favourites were hummus made from 'the finest cheak-pie' and a sandwich containing 'muffled zucchini' (which turned out to be a thin slice of courgette, battered and fried).
- Babies love eating sand.
All three books I read whilst away are great. I can't wait to tell you what I thought. But I'll have to. And so will you.
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
Sunday, 16 November 2008
Friday, 14 November 2008
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Monday, 10 November 2008
Saturday, 8 November 2008
Thursday, 6 November 2008
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Sunday, 2 November 2008
Saturday, 1 November 2008
I'm going to be away for a few weeks, looking after baby whilst my wife directs an opera in Gran Canaria (I know, it's a tough gig). I won't leave you with nothing though, over the next few days I'll be sending you virtual postcards; all original images taken by me and my trusty camera over the years. I hope you enjoy and I'll be back with reviews of my holiday reading near the end of the month. Adios!