Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

I chose to read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine because my niece gave it a positive rating on Good Reads and I trust her instincts about books. I was quite taken with the story and finished it quickly.  

gail honeyman

Gail Honeyman

As an author hoping to get a book published for the first time I will admit that the ‘dreams do come true’ story of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine author Gail Honeyman probably influenced my appreciation of the book.  This is Gail Honeyman’s first novel and she wrote it as an assignment for a writing course she took while working full-time as a university administrator. She would write her novel on her lunch breaks. She entered the manuscript in a writing contest and one of the judges, who happened to be a literary agent, liked it and decided to take her on as a client.  Gail’s book was just named Book of the Year in Britain and Reese Witherspoon is turning it into a movie. 

I liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine because the heroine perseveres despite the fact that she leads a very lonely existence and has been dealt a horrible hand in the game of life.  I liked the story because it shows how a little kindness and personal interest can go a long way towards making a difference in someone’s life.  I liked the book because Eleanor is so straight forward and honest that many of her observations had me laughing out loud like……….

“I have often noticed that people who routinely wear sportswear are the least likely sort to participate in athletic activity.”

eleanor oliphant is completely fineSome critics say the transformation that takes place in Eleanor Oliphant’s life in this book is unrealistic.  That may be, but I was charmed by Eleanor and intrigued by the way she manages to finally open herself to other people.  This is a sad story that turns out better than one could have imagined. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is ultimately a hopeful book and I think right now many people are looking for just that kind of story. 

Other posts………

Becoming

All Things Consoled

Coop The Great

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Jaguars in the Bathroom

jaguar in a hotel lobby in merida

Jaguar vase and jaguar figurines in a hotel lobby in Merida

The jaguar is an important symbolic animal here in Mexico.  Archeologists have discovered stone and jade carvings of jaguars that are more than 3000 years old. Mayan rulers showed their power by wearing jaguar skins, claws and fangs.  Images of jaguars appear in ancient Mayan hieroglyphic texts and there is a Temple of the Jaguar at the Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza.

jaguar in a gift shop merida

Jaguar art piece for sale in a gift shop in Merida

In Mayan mythology the jaguar was the ruler of the underworld. Mayan sorcerers could transform into jaguars to face their fears or confront their enemies.

jaguar folk art museum merida

Jaguar by Gabriel Perez Rajon at the Folk Art Museum in Merida

After the Spanish take over of Mexico the local Mayan people used the jaguar as a symbol of their fight against colonization.  Because of all that history and symbolism I see jaguar images everywhere here in the Yucatan and I mean everywhere!  In the last few days I have even found jaguars in bathrooms in two different places.

Alberto Bautista Gómez jaguars in the bathroom merida folk museum

Jaguars by Alberto Bautista Gomez

The Folk Art Museum in Merida is located in an old home.  Each room of the house features artists from different provinces of Mexico.  There happens to be a bathroom in the section of the house featuring artists from Chiapas and so two jaguars created by artist Alberto Bautista Gomez are on display there posed just in front of the urinal and toilet. jaguar in the bathroom meridaOn Friday I was on an art gallery walk in Merida and asked to use the washroom at the Soho Art Gallery.  I was sitting on the toilet and looked up and lo and behold there was another jaguar looking right at me!jaguar mural bathroom merida
If you visit the Yucatan province in Mexico be prepared to see jaguars everywhere! Including in the bathroom!

Other posts…………..

The Most Beautiful Bathroom in Winnipeg

Pop Up Toilet

Gender Neutral Bathrooms

 

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Movie or Book?

After I finished reading the book The Hate U Give I watched the movie of the same title.  I  liked the book better.  One of the themes of the story is  black lives matter.  Starr the African American heroine witnesses a white police officer shoot and kill her friend Khalil after a routine traffic pull over. Her friend is unarmed. Starr must decide if she will appear as a witness before a Grand Jury. The jury will determine whether the officer will be charged with a crime in the shooting.

Starr’s uncle is an African American police officer and in the book his character is explored in much more depth than in the movie.  This gives the book more balance so that we get a well rounded picture of a positive member of the police force and can see things from the police officers’ point of view too.

Starr’s Dad who has been heavily influenced by the teachings of Malcom X has taught his daughter to be proud of her racial identity and her black community

Starr’s father is a devoted follower of Macolm X.  The principles of the Black Panthers guide Starr’s upbringing and are more completely explained and discussed in the book.  This helps us better understand Starr and the choices she eventually makes.

The character of Starr’s white boyfriend is more fully explored in the book as well and I liked him more in the book than I did in the movie. 

One character in the book, DeVante is left out of the movie completely. That’s too bad. DeVante is a young black man Starr’s family tries to help escape from the clutches of a drug lord and gang leader. Although Khalil, the young man whose death Starr witnessed is dead, and Starr’s family can’t help him any more, they can help DeVante find a new life.  I think this provides an important piece in the family’s healing and makes the story in the book more balanced. 

I thought Amandla Stenberg did a great job of playing Starr in the movie

The movie ends differently than the book in a way that I thought was contrived and unrealistic. 

I read The Hate U Give  because I am doing a presentation on it for my writer’s group when I get back to Winnipeg.  I have to analyze the book using a fourteen point plot outline for how to write a good novel.  Ironically the text about novel writing we are using is a sequel to one about screen writing that was hugely popular. I think maybe the screenwriters and producers for The Hate U Give needed to read that text so the movie they made would have been as good as the book it was based on. 

Other posts…………

Now I Really Want To Go To Botswana

Winnipeg and Mennonites in Gone Girl

Don’t Trust the Trailer

 

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Cooking Up A Storm in the Yucatan

My sister Kaaren and I and our friend Deb went on a cooking adventure in Merida Mexico.This is the beautiful table of food we helped create. How did it happen?   Well first we went on a shopping trip to a large neighbourhood market to gather the ingredients for our meal. I wrote about that part of our adventure in yesterday’s blog post.  

This lovely lady is Aunt Bertha and we were in her home for the cooking part of our adventure.  Bertha who used to be a cook for the public health department had pots bubbling on her stove when we arrived. One was for chicken. She was boiling it in water spiced with cinnamon and cloves. While Bertha roasted peppers and made a sauce with the tomatoes we had bought at the market, Edgar our guide for the day got the three of us right to work. Deb cut up peppers and limes My sister Kaaren chopped onions and I was given the job of peeling  oranges.  Edgar told me I needed to try to keep the peel in one piece as I removed it because for each time I created a perfect peel it would signal one marriage in my life.  I managed to keep five orange peels whole but said I had no intention of being married more than once. Next I had squeeze the juice out of all those oranges with my hands.  Edgar said we put our love into food when we touch it. In the meantime my sister Kaaren was busy peeling cucumbers which would be cut into thin half-moon slices and marinated in coriander and lime juice.  Deb was stuffing panuchos with black bean paste. I got to work chopping chaya a leafy kind of spinach that would be made into a drink and used to flavor tortillas. Kaaren was given a press to make tortillas. She had a good laugh about the first tortilla she made which was very small.

But eventually she got the hang of it. Bertha fried the tortillas and they puffed up and looked light and beautiful. Now the chaya I had chopped was added to more tortilla doughand Kaaren and Deb patted it into little round cakes and then…….. while Edgar and I were pulling apart the chicken which had been roasted in a red achiote paste Bertha finished frying up the three different kinds of tortillas we had made. Edgar demonstrated how to put together the salbutes and panuchos – first a lettuce leaf, then some pulled chicken baked in achiote paste, then a few slices of marinated cucumber, some tomato and finally a couple of slices of avocado.  We were quick learners and soon the plates looked like this. Salbutes in front, panuchos behind and to the right of the panuchos the chaya tortillas with tomato paste and up in the corner of the picture a nutty dip for tortilla chips made with tomato sauce and pumpkin seed powder. Edgar was pleased with how well we had done under his instruction. By the way throughout the experience we were drinking a delicious iced tea made from dried hibiscus flowers. Our meal started with some wonderful soup de lima and then……..we enjoyed all the other dishes!  Before we left Bertha had her grandson take a picture of us and asked us to write our names and some comments about our meal in her notebook which was full of anecdotes and accolades from folks from all over the world who had cooked at Bertha’s house. 

We were full and tired and ready to head home but we’d had a great Mexican cooking adventure we wouldn’t forget!

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An Interesting Field Trip

Tattoos or Sky Diving?

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To Market To Market

On Wednesday I went on a food adventure with my sister Kaaren and our friend Deb.  The first part of our experience took place in the Lucas de Gálvez’ market in central Merida where we went to purchase all the vegetables and other supplies for cooking our meal.  Before we even entered the market we stopped to get some chaya from a vendor.  Chaya comes from a shrub native to the Yucatan. It is sometimes also called tree spinach. Edgar our affable and informative guide for the day told us that chaya can be toxic if it isn’t prepared properly but cooked the right way it can actually provide you with lots of valuable vitamins and minerals.  We would use it to make tortillas and a delicious juice for our meal.  We entered  the  Lucas de Gálvez’ market. It was a huge space bustling with people. The corridors between the stands were narrow and we had to be sure not to stand in the way of the traffic flow. I think we might have gotten lost in the market without Edgar there to guide us.  You could buy live chickens and rabbits in the market but Edgar said we didn’t need to purchase any because his Aunt Bertha, who would be helping us cook, had gone to the market this morning to get the chicken for our meal. Our first stop was at this little shop where we tasteddifferent kinds of jams made with jalapeno peppers and tried coconut and licorice liquors. Edgar suggested we buy some to have after our meal.Edgar showed us achiote seeds. Achiote is a peppery spice that comes from the seeds of an evergreen shrub. The achiote seeds had been used to make this red paste.  Edgar bought a bag. While Deb was checking out the bags of red achiote paste Edgar told us we would be coating our chicken with it before we cooked it. Edgar said it was time for a snack to fortify ourselves for the rest of our shopping trip.  He ordered pork buns with onions for us.  I especially liked the huge radish that accompanied my sandwich.  Edgar told us to squeeze lime juice on it before we ate it to bring out its flavour. Edgar got cups of ice-cold lime juice to go with the pork buns. We were glad of the refreshment because it was a very hot day. Then we were back in the trenches to visit one stand after another to collect our cooking ingredients.  We bought tomatoes from this friendly woman. This vendor let us taste some ground pumpkin seed before we bought it.  Mixed together with a tomato sauce the ground pumpkin seed would make a delicious nutty dip for tortilla chips. We bought dough for making our own tortillas at this stand where we watched a machine in action that can crank out thousands of tortillas every hour. We picked up lettuce and cilantro. Edgar added a variety of hot peppers including ones called red devils to our growing inventory of purchased ingredients. He put a couple of these interesting cucumbers into his shopping bag and a half-dozen of these slightly sour oranges.  These avocados looked different from the kind we buy in the grocery store. We were squeezing them to see which ones were ripe enough till my sister saw the sign “If don’t buy-don’t touch.” Edgar showed us how by just looking at the end of the avocado you can tell if it is ripe and ready to eat. Now we were ready to leave the market.  It had been quite a shopping adventure.  Two things I noticed during our time in the  Lucas de Gálvez’ market was that every single vendor had a religious shrine of some kind in their stand and……I marveled at the pure artistry of the vendors who arranged their produce in such creative ways. The various colors of the vegetables and the way they were artfully organized was a feast for the eye. Look how these carrots have been carefully arranged!

As we left the market Edgar hailed this small ancient taxi. Squished together in the cramped hot back seat the three of us bumped along on the twenty-five minute ride to Aunt Bertha’s where the cooking part of our adventure took place.  You will have to check the blog tomorrow to learn all about that!

Other posts……….

Beauty in Ordinary Things

India Assaults the Senses

Acquiring a Taste For Jamaican Food

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Loving Uber!

We get around everywhere by Uber here in Mexico.  The rates are so cheap and there are so many drivers available that downloading Uber apps on our phones and using them for our transportation needs is a far more economical and practical choice than renting a car. Some drivers don’t speak English but others do and we have learned plenty of interesting things from them. 

Many have left jobs related to their university degrees- business, technology, innovation, architecture, engineering to drive Uber because they can make a better living here in Mexico as a driver than as a professional. 

Two of our drivers were Americans who had roots in Mexico, had come here for visits, fallen in love with Mexican women and had children.  Since getting American immigration papers for their families is almost impossible they must remain here. 

Some people drive Uber because it gives them an opportunity to have two jobs or it gives them the flexibilty to spend more time with their kids during the day. One of our drivers was a farmer and he and Dave discussed their family farms during our trip.  

One driver who didn’t speak English asked Dave in a questioning way “música?” When Dave said ‘The Beatles” the driver understood him immediately and played one Beatles hit after the other on his car sound system during our ride. 

We have only had one female driver.  She didn’t understand English but Dave and Rudy managed to convey that they wanted to stop on our ride to pick up some items from the grocery store.  While the fellows went into the store I showed her pictures of my grandsons on my phone and she showed me photos of her family and with gestures and the few words we knew of each other’s languages I learned she had five brothers and two sisters,seven nieces and nephews and that her grandmother had died last year. We even figured out that her nephew and my grandson shared the same name. 

A couple of our drivers have moved here from Mexico City  because there is so much less crime and extortion and corruption here in the Yucatan.  They gave us lots of interesting reasons why that is the case.

I especially love Uber trips I make on my own.  My last two I was lucky enough to get drivers who both spoke a fair bit of English and we had fascinating half hour conversations on our ride home from Merida. Uber is fast and convenient but the bonus for me is that I am meeting lots of interesting people and am learning so much about Merida and the Yucatan from our local drivers.  

Other posts………..

Friend For A Moment

We Placed Our Lives in his Hands

Dave the Professional Driver

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Behind Closed Doors

deb and kaaren house andgarden tourYesterday I joined my sister Kaaren and her friend Deb and their husbands on a house tour in downtown Merida. I had heard that behind the closed doors and rather modest exteriors of many homes in the area there were grand residences.  We were off to see three of them. 

english libraryWe met first in the courtyard at the English Library just down the street from my sister’s house. The library runs house tours every Tuesday morning as a fundraiser.  Brent Marsh a local realtor and house renovator gave us a very interesting thirty minute talk about how the architecture of homes in Merida has been impacted by history, trade and climate. 

artist studioThe first home we visited belonged to an artist.  We saw his sunny studio which I thought would also be a perfect spot for writing. artisthomemeridaSome of the home owner’s work hung on the walls. bathroom tiles mexicoThe kitchen and bathrooms were decorated with these old tiles that were originally imported to Merida from Europe in the late 1800s.  The artist who renovated the house sourced them from many different places and then worked hard to fit them together to form some kind of design. dining room house in meridaThe owner had spent almost two years redoing the home and it was absolutely beautiful. sitting area house in meridaIt would be a wonderful place to stay during a holiday in Merida. pool house merida

Every home we toured had a pool and the second house we visited was no exception. painted door house tour meridaThe inside of the front door was painted in an unusual and interesting way. bedroom house meridaIt had a couple of beautifully appointed bedroomsblue glass concrete counterAnd the kitchen counters were made of concrete speckled with different kinds of blue glass the owners had picked up on the beach. The third home we toured was the most impressive. It had a diningroom that could have accommodated a large group of guests. My sister was taken with the stylish kitchen and the long walk in pantry attached to it. The home owner told us she had been collecting gallery worthy Haitian art for years and many very interesting pieces adorned her home. There were three spacious and colorful bedroomsand the home featured five bathrooms each with a little garden incorporated into it in some way. A long narrow pool was part of the main floor of the house andthe expansive rooftop space had gardens and several different comfortable sitting areas. The house was enormous and beautifully kept and as I walked through it I wondered how many people the elderly woman who owned it employed to maintain it so well. 

The homes we saw were all quite marvelous but our guide Brent Marsh reminded us that keeping a house in good repair in Mexico is an ongoing struggle and very hard work- the heat, the humidity and the insects play havoc with buildings. All the homes we looked at were owned by people from countries other than Mexico. I wondered how the local Mexican people felt about expatriates coming in from other countries to take over their city’s historic homes. Perhaps they are fine with this because the expatriates have the money to restore the homes but might they be reminded as they visit these homes, and work in these homes, of how the Spanish once came and built many of these mansions using the cheap and sometimes slave labor of the local people ?

The English library in Merida hosts house tours every Tuesday and they are very popular. Well over a hundred people  divided into three groups were part of the tour we did yesterday. Reviews on Trip Advisor are mixed as would have been the response of various members of our group of five. 

Other posts……..

A Great House Haunts Me

He Thought His Buildings Were Alive

 

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