Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Magic Realism. . .concerts at the Portland Chinese Garden

My daughter, Coranna, and I attended the Tuesdays By Twilight Concert Series at the Portland Chinese Garden. I used to believe that the Cisterns in Istanbul were the most surreal concert venue, but now I'm voting for this one. The Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble played traditional Chinese instruments: erhu, ruan, dzeng, and pipa. The erhu, similar to a violin, was my favorite. Watching over the water with the Chinese temple arches framing the musicians was magic. I Should also add that Coranna was perfect. When the woman playing said that she wrote a piece to resemble the feel of candlelight, Coranna closed her eyes and tried to feel how the music was candlelight. Careful not to speak outloud, she raised her thumb to indicate that she felt it.

Magic realism is like this night was for us. It disarms you a bit, maybe even makes you gasp as you realize that art can transcend to a place that is intuitively beyond the realm of words. Placed in a real world, it sparkles with magic.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Vikram Seth

I rediscovered an old love this weekend.

Last month I went to Powell's and was poking around the stacks looking for Indian authors to read while also talking to my friend Sheila on the phone. Sheila just returned from Thailand so we were intermixing conversations about Thailand with books and I think I got all jumbled and chose a Vikram Seth book. I remembered his name, but I thought it was from his novel, A Suitable Boy. Sheila, who knows me so well, and probably read every Indian author I've read agreed that surely that was how I knew Vikram Seth. So, I bought An Equal Music without really reading much about it. Just to clarify - I'm sorry I'm so excited about my discovery that I'm gushing faster than I can write this story - I'm reading Indian author's to get my feel for the rhythm I want in my second novel. It is set in Nepal, and I want it to have a breathless, folklore like quality to it. I want the village to be a character, and all the characters to tie into the voice.

Yesterday, I felt tired after not sleeping Thursday night because I was excited about the half-marathon, and tired from running the half-marathon in, what I now realize where shitty shoes I bought off the sale rack, so I only went to one cookout and didn't go over Nadja's to watch the fireworks. Instead, I stayed home to read Vikram Seth's An Equal Music. At first, I was disappointed because it was set in London and there was nothing of the Indian lyrical quality about the book. I almost put it down, except the writing was so alive, so electrical, I couldn't stop. Then I realized that the main character lived in Bayswater, very near where I lived in London, and the central motif of the novel was music. As we know, I love music so I just kept reading. Maureen called, upset because she found a home for her little pit-bull puppy, and I had to stop reading to console her. Then today I had things to do, a cookout, shopping. But, I kept picking up this magnificent story, and something about the style, the soul of this book reminded me of a past love. I ran to it at each interval, and finally, just now, finished it.

As I do when I'm so in love with a story I want to soak more from it, I looked over Vikram Seth's other works. I was shocked to discover that he wrote Golden Gate. Have you read this book? I devoured it in the nineties while I was living with Sheila in Washington, DC. That's probably why Sheila recognized his name - I was in love with this book and have thought of it often through the years. It is a novel set in verse about people in San Francisco. But the author is so true to his characters, so shrewd about human nature, that I never forgot it. The book wasn't mine, probably borrowed from our other housemate, Monica. Otherwise, it would have been a book I held onto.

So,in reading An Equal Music, I rediscovered my love for Vikram Seth. Deep breath. There, now I've gushed. I'm content. But, I don't want to let this story go. As my fourteen-month-old nephew says, putting his little fingers together in sign "more, more."