Friday, April 22, 2016

Recipe for Disaster

Mud. And more mud. That’s the scenario that the city’s inhabitants will wake to tomorrow. Though it’s stopped raining for the moment – after 48 hours of relentless downpour, the meteorologists and Yahoo Weather predict the rain will continue through the night and tomorrow.
The Mapocho River wanted to follow its true course, its ancient familiar bed of rock and gravel and sediment. But major works of engineering placed obstacles in its way – tunnels, holes, temporary retaining walls, subterranean underpasses – to facilitate the movement of masses of motorists rushing to destinations throughout the city. After all, we all fume when stuck in the ever-increasing traffic jams, grouching why don’t they do something?
 Roaring down the slopes of the Andes, gathering force and speed, the river waters suddenly confronted foreign obstacles in their path. Rivers are not patient with obstructions. They stubbornly forge onward. With its natural flow blocked, what does the river do?  Detour through the paths of least resistance: underground parking garages, subterranean malls, underpasses, basements, cracks, crevasses, mouse holes, potholes, perforations and fissures. Because forward it will go, downhill, seaward, obeying the laws of physics.
As the water surges down drought-ridden slopes, it sucks up loose soil, rocks, and assorted plastic bottles, depositing them in the flatter areas. A recipe for a muddy mess. Though the water moves on, like an undisciplined child, it doesn’t clean up what it dropped along its wild way.
Thus, out roar man’s machines: pumps, bulldozers, hoses and trucks to undo what nature has done. With furious urgency, they’ll reestablish the obstacles and barriers, move earth, pump water, drill holes, erect stronger retention walls, widen the river bed.
Not for the first time. Repeated interventions have paralleled the growth of the city of Santiago, immediate gain being the top priority. Walls, buildings, houses, stores and highways line the banks of the man-handled River.
There’s no one around now who remembers the river when it flowed freely along its natural course through fields and valleys. Contemplating today’s mud soup, I grieve for the River and its valley, once a bucolic landscape as portrayed by artists in the early days of settlement.


Friday, April 8, 2016

A Bookworm’s Dilemma

I never thought I’d be saying this but I have to admit it now – Kindle is a great invention.  A plethora of books in English are accessible with the tap of a finger to this eager reader living in a non-English-speaking country. Of course, I’d prefer the real thing – the book in my hands, my fingers turning the pages, underlining brilliant thoughts or beautifully expressed ideas. Then, when I finish the book, if I decide it’s a “keeper,” I’ll squeeze it onto a bulging bookshelf, or else pass it on to another eager English reader. Besides its accessibility, Kindle has the marvelous option that with another tap, the definition of an unwieldy word pops up.
            I’m reading more than ever: fiction and nonfiction, exploring authors new to me, recommended books, Pulitzer Prize winners, well-known authors I hadn’t read. I read not only for pleasure, but to learn more of the writing craft. I read more critically. Some authors disappoint me, but if they enjoy wide acclaim, I don’t give up on them. I may encounter within the pages an illumination that renders the effort worthwhile.
            When I discover an author whose writing I love, I want to read more. This happened after reading Geraldine Brooks’ book “March,” a novel about Mr. March, the father of the girls in “Little Women.” What a clever idea to imagine the life of a secondary character in a famous novel. I then realized that I remembered very little of “Little Women” and would like to read it again. I no longer have the blue hard-cover copy that belonged to my mother.
 This started me thinking of other books I’d like to reread: “Ann of Green Gables,” Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie,” Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead.” Then a doubt haunts me. Should I spend time to reread when there is so much out there I have never read?
It was time well spent rereading “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “Ishi in Two Worlds,” and William Least-Heat Moon’s “Blue Highways,” but, more than all others, I return again and again to Amy Leach’s “Things That Are.” I make lists of her goofy, wonderful word combinations, as well as invented words (jewel-babblers, botherations), reading them over in the hope that some of her magic will rub off on me. I’d be desolate without my hard copy.
I particularly love books with a strong sense of place, like Ivan Doig’s “The Sea Runners.” If the place is one I have visited or plan to visit, my journey is all the richer. I’d read Lawrence Bergreen’s “Over the Edge of the World” before my trip through the Straits of Magellan. Knowing details of Magellan’s voyage, I felt such wonder viewing the same glaciers and walking the same shores that the explorer and his sailors once trod.

In a few months, I’ll be cruising the Baltic and visiting St. Petersburg. I’m already in a Russian state of mind after reading Rosemary Sullivan’s “Stalin’s Daughter.” Years ago I found Edward Rutherfurd’s “Russka” fascinating. Perhaps a reread to brush up on my history?  Or a Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky that I haven’t read. My options are endless. Before downloading on Kindle, I’ll ask my friends if anyone has something Russian.