Dec 18, 2008

Armando's Hideaway

We came expecting a dank room with a lumpy mattress on the floor, adolescent guards at the ready, and beans and rice for sustenance. Armando was only able to conjure up the beans and rice (courtesy of Picante), but when paired with his homemade tamales, green salad, and a pleasing berry and ice cream dessert selection, we were most forgiving. The smooth brandy from Roy, and the selection of Latin beers, also helped.

Armando never circled back to his father’s barroom antics (we’ll wait for that next time), but he did impress us with his tales of whales (and their 10-foot appendages), Fresnel lenses (yes, that was young Armando in the lighthouse), and a 20-year men’s group that’s still going strong. Some of us were even invited into his “man cave,” whose artifacts and animals (those were California Kingsnakes!) might have entertained us all evening.

The Book
Had we picked any other of Armando’s book choices, we would likely have been pleased. But as it was, we felt merely informed by our reading of Marquez’ account of the 1990 kidnappings in his native Colombia. Our criticisms centered around the limits Marquez imposed on his reporting: he spent too much time lionizing the hostages and their high society families and friends, and too little time exploring the class tensions, the widespread violence, the political instability, and the shadow of Uncle Sam—all of which contributed to Pablo Escobar’s desperate bid for leverage as he sought to avoid extradition and protect his family.

Fortunately, Stan happily filled in some of the missing context! (How about we next pick a book about Mongolia and see if Stan also spent time there in 1972 playing music and marveling at the abundance of cocaine?) I'm not sure I get Stan's connection to Havana Nocturne, and I know Peter is still smarting from George's generalizations about where all the stable democracies are located (none south of the equator, apparently). As we went around the table, no one was quite as critical as I, but the rating still fell solidly into the mid-range, with the final result a disappointing 4.9.

Next Up
Our next selection is David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. We will take off the month of January and instead travel up to Tahoe for a weekend of skiing and bonding (not bondage, Garth). Food and beverage assignments are coming, so be sure to RSVP if you haven’t already. So far, 14 are confirmed, and we now have a second cabin reserved for the overflow.

Dec 14, 2008

Book Selections for Jan/Feb

At Armando's on Tuesday evening, I'll be proposing the following three titles for your consideration. Given the short month, we'll read the book for our meeting in February. (For our January ski weekend, we'll have to find other pursuits to entertain us.)
1. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (Wroblewski). This novel has three strikes against it: it's still only in hardcover, it exceeds 500 pages, and it carries Oprah's imprimatur on the cover. Despite those negatives, this coming-of-age story is on everyone's top ten list for 2008. The reason is that it's a wonderful, readable story about a boy, his dogs, and his need to vindicate his father.
2. Out Stealing Horses (Petterson). This Norwegian novel is also a coming-of-age tale, but told from the perspective of a old man, recently widowed, who has moved to the country to escape family and friends. His escape becomes a return, and the reader is taken back to World War II when the man, then age 15, is forced to grapple with his father's love and betrayal.
3. Peace Like a River (Enger). Another (you guessed it) coming-of-age story told from the perspective of an 11-year old boy in the early 1960's. Set in the Dakotas and Montana, this novel perfectly captures the voice of a boy bearing witness to his older brother's act of vengeance, his younger sister's love, and his father's greatness.
Each one of these stories is absolutely unforgettable. See you all Tuesday.

Dec 7, 2008

Mexico Now Extraditing Drug Suspects to U.S.

As I was reading about the Extraditables in "News of a Kidnapping", this article with the above headline appeared in the Dec 1st edition of the Chron.

Here is the link

-- Larry

Dec 3, 2008

Retracing Jack London's Journeys on the Bay

Reading Jack London’s Tales of the Fish Patrol was like my grandfather spending an afternoon on my boat telling me tales of fishing and other stories, with some embellishments, I am certain, and perhaps a few outright lies which could be categorized as “fiction”. The settings in the stories are part of my everyday life. I spend a lot of time with my kids at the precise spots in the bay described by Jack London and I work in Benicia. I thought that I might be able to provide the other members of the group a different view of their local world of the Bay Area, but from the Bay side.

It really is a very different world from the water. Each time I go out it is a bit of an adventure, due to the confluence of the wind and the currents, the water is always different from the day before.

Our first group was comprised of Tom, Terry, Armando, Glenn, and myself. We departed Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael and followed the Marin coast to Angel island, then across to San Francisco waterfront, down to Candlestick Point and then across to the Oyster Beds which is now the Oakland Airport. Even Asparagus Island is connected by landfill to the airport. We followed the East shore to Alameda, Oakland, Treasure Island, then to Richmond, the Brothers Islands, Point Pedro, Point Pinole, across San Pablo Bay. We viewed the asphalt cap which tries to encapsulate the slag from the Selby Smelter then up the Carquinez straits past C&H Sugar, then Port Costa and into the Benicia Harbor were we docked and walked down the street to one of my lunchtime hangouts overlooking the Benicia Bight, Captain Blyther’s. Nearly everyone followed my advice and got the Reuben sandwich once they found out that is the only thing I ever order from the menu, perhaps not so much in agreement of my good taste, but likely in fear that it is the only edible entrĂ©e on the menu.

After lunch, we went east, up the straits and entered Suisun Bay, and toured down the rows of ships which comprise the mothball fleet, a huge relic of World War II and the Navy’s vow that they will not have to retreat due to lack of shipping capacity again. There is also an environmental reason why they are anchored in Suisun Bay. America has very little capacity to dismantle ships. Most of that is done in Korea and elsewhere in Asia, but America also has a law prohibiting the export of hazardous waste, and since all those ships contain asbestos, they must remain here untll they can be scrapped.

We motored back up the straights past Vallejo, across the bay to Point Pablo, China Camp, and to the Marin Islands, and being fairly low tide, viewed the beach area adjacent the mud flats where yellow Handkerchief and his band dropped off Jack in the last story.

There will be another trip this Friday after Thanksgiving and possibly even another if we still haven’t taken all those who wish to go on this excursion. I was very pleased with the company on the trip and I must admit that I am much more comfortable in smaller groups like this where you can get to know each other better – because we are forced together on a small boat for hours and we need to pass the time getting to know one another. I know the ostensible purpose of the group is the intellectual stimulation provided by the engaging minds of the authors, but we had a good time together - without any help from those brilliant minds. It was a very good day on the bay.