Monthly Archives: September 2015

Reviews ~ Learning to Drive

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, available for $9-$20

“The car goes where the eyes go.”

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A friend of mine recommended this book. There are a myriad of reasons why she might have, not the least of which it’s a dang good book. The main character is a dog. It is from his viewpoint, thoughts, successes and failures that we see the life of a man who is at heart a champion. A champion race car driver. It takes him a long time to realize his goal and the story of how he finds his path from behind the customer service desk of a high-end automobile service garage and onto the race tracks of Europe, well, that is our tale, you see.

Enzo, our beloved hero, is a mutt with maybe a bit of terrier. He’s a smart dog. Bored to distraction while his pal, Denny, is at work. He finally finds an outlet when the TV is left on one morning and Enzo takes on the job of educating himself. Denny sets limits but makes sure that Enzo is exposed to variety. Soon he spends long hours absorbing human interactions and thought process available on the channels he is permitted to watch. And there are always the videos. Videos of races from around the world that he and his pal watch, always with lessons about what went wrong, what went right and what it takes to be a champion. And how to drive in the rain.

Of all the programs that affect Enzo the most, one is a National Geographic program about the dogs of Mongolia. Here it is believed that if a dog does very well in his life, he may have the opportunity to become a human in the next life. Enzo sets this as his goal. The very thought of acquiring opposing thumbs and a tongue that actually responds to commands—well this change becomes his checkered flag.

Denny suffers a number of setbacks. Money, the loss of his beloved wife and a long and debilitating fight for the custody of his daughter. But he is a champion, and when he wavers on his path, Enzo jumps in with his dog-like persistence and finds a way to get Denny’s eyes back on the track.

Another saying used wisely in these pages is, “No race has ever been won in the first corner; many have been lost there.” The need to keep a goal in sight, no matter what obstacles are in the way, is the only chance of reaching it. Yes, there are things in life that you cannot change, but there are those you can. And for those you must stay the course. Not squeezing the wheel in desperation until your joints ache and you no longer “feel,” but with calm awareness of everything around you so that you can avoid losing control, over correcting, and ending up in a heap at the side of the road.

One more gem from Enzo. “Racers are often called selfish and egotistical. I myself have called race car drivers selfish; I was wrong. To be a champion, you must have no ego at all. You must not exist as a separate entity. You must give yourself over to the race. You are nothing if not for your team, your car, your shoes, your tires. Do not mistake confidence and self-awareness for egotism.” To win you must be aware of everything around you, know the most effective response without really thinking, and keep your eyes where you want the car to go. It takes practice, it takes will, and it takes a sincere love of the race itself.

Ah, yes, our Enzo. You observed much and learned much. I only hope your doggie soul remains so wise when it finds its human shell.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

Reflections ~ Beachcombing & Keeping Upright

It has been months since I made it to the beaches a bare 30 miles from my front door. This weekend I had incentive. One of my “hospice friends,” who has become a very dear post-hospice friend, was visiting. She, her granddaughter, and husband were staying in Westport for a few days and, yes, she would love to see my new home. Hubby was crabbing and on his own adventure. We “girls” had the afternoon to ourselves. What more enticement could I need?

Catching the tail end of lunch, I arrived in time to go see the lighthouse. How a not-quite 3-year-old had managed to get this visit well seated in her mind is hard to say but this is one bright cookie. After spending the day with her and Oma, I quite understand. Everything is a door to learning. Absolutely everything. And once you begin to interpret the strange language of a 3-year-old chatterbox, the responding questions are also quite interesting. Oma never missed a beat to show, to teach, to open doors in a very young mind.

Sadly, we could not climb the 135 steps to the top of the lighthouse. One must be 40 inches tall and over 5 years old. One of our party did not qualify. (Secretly, I would have been better off not knowing about 135 steps until after I got back down). But we still had fun and managed to get our Discover Pass marked up for the vehicle we were driving. Next stop, the beach. While Oma and her granddaughter focused on sand castles, I took a long, long leisurely walk in the surf – no footwear required.

For those of us that did not grow up on the beach, the incoming tide is something you must adjust to. Having the moving water swirl around you, and the sand beneath your feet “dissolve,” can upset your equilibrium a bit until you adjust. I tend to want to list to the right a bit. But, once you have your “surf legs,” letting the tide come and go around you, sharing the heartbeat of the globe, can be one of the most relaxing experiences this world of ours has to offer. I think it is like dancing standing still. And I never dance with my shoes on.

Some of the “smile moments” from my afternoon.

Waves. We have learned so much in the past several centuries about the mathematics of waves. How they come to be, move, change, fade away only to be replaced with other waves, some less complex than others, but never simple.  I think that to understand consciousness, individuality, “me-ness,” we will first need to understand waves wherever they appear and in whatever form they take.

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Sometimes surfing requires a helping hand, a veteran, to lead the way. Sometimes you’ve learned enough to test the waves on your own.

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Life is an adventure. The greatest and perhaps hardest lesson to learn is to approach it with the joy, wonder, and determination of a child, and the wisdom of age and experience.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck, Personal Journeys

Reviews ~ Maria, in Film and Life

History. A subject I have always been thoroughly fascinated with. Not just the dates, places and people often forced upon us by rote in mandatory classes. No, my research has always been from the perspective of what I might have done, thought, or felt. What might have caused these people to do as they did? What human frailty became the pivot, the fulcrum of history?

That inquisitiveness drew me to the tale of Maria Altmann. Her battle with the Austrian government is portrayed in the movie, Woman in Gold. I highly recommend it. Yes, it speaks of the Nazi invasion and possession of Austria and the events that followed, but it goes far deeper. The movie sheds some light on the Vienna of the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was a time of the literati, when parties and recitals were a nightly affair and the accomplished and the affluent of Austria met in private homes. Even reviews that find fault consider it a movie well worth the effort.

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Maria Altmann was a child of the elite. She was raised in a home where personages such as Johannes Brahms, Gustav Klimt, Giacomo Puccini, Max Reinhardt, Arnold Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, and others who are no longer household names, were frequent visitors. It is Klimt who was commissioned by her uncle to paint her aunt Adele. This world was shattered the day Hitler marched into Vienna.

The movie portrays those dark months in flashbacks as it dramatizes Altmann’s battle with Austria to gain acknowledgement of her family’s title to the paintings. Randol Schoenberg, the grandson of Arnold, waged the battle in Austria and in the U. S. The case was heard by the Supreme Court. What I found most interesting was that key I always look for; the human side.

The Nazi’s were infamous in their looting of the treasures of Europe. The paintings, among other assets, held by the Bloch-Bauer’s were no exception. Originally entitled Adele Bloch-Bauer I, the name of the painting was changed in the Nazi effort to eradicate all things Jewish. Eventually, it acquired the status of the Austrian Mona Lisa. But, this was not a state treasure of the Austrian government, proudly displayed in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. To Maria it was a family portrait. A piece that represented something very special about a happy, secure and intellectually challenging childhood. It was a painting of a fondly remembered aunt.

In later years, Maria discovered that her aunt’s jewelry was given to Hermann Goering’s wife. She said she didn’t feel too badly since she had heard the lady had done some good for people. One of these pieces was the diamond choker depicted in the painting.

That brings us to the more personal side of Maria Altmann. The Maria not dressed up in Hollywood depictions and poetic license. For that you must visit the memoir of Gregor Collins, The Accidental Caregiver.

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It doesn’t matter if you are a caregiver, this is a delightful book with genuine insights into the woman, and the process of aging. Collins is a member of a team hired to look after Maria in the last three years of her life. He chronicles their relationship, their conversations, and the lessons learned from a woman that simply would not let life get her down. An invigorating personality that you could well see standing up against the governments of two nations and demanding whatever small part of her childhood could still be touched, without ever letting go of living life to its fullest right now, right here.

Again, I am reminded of her whole outlook. The money was never the real issue with her. In fact, the family gave large portions of the proceeds to charity. The division of what was kept was settled quickly and without squabble. Testimony to the grace and noblesse oblige which permeated the upbringing of many generations of Bloch-Bauers.

Collins does not dwell on the failings of the disease, he spotlights his charge and allows her spirit to shine through the day to day management of physical therapy, doctor’s visits, medications and moments of realization that the end was surely on the way. Having been a caregiver for 4 years, I chuckled as he described corralling three elderly ladies with the intent of getting them to a shared meal. I cried as I read the last days of Maria’s life, reliving those same experiences with my husband. He walked through those days with beauty, honesty, and genuine love for the woman.

Accidental Caregiver is not an instruction book on how to be a caregiver. It is a story of how one caregiver learned to see more than the diminished capacity of his charge. It is about seeing the humanity in all of us and of grasping that bit that makes us individuals in all circumstances and to all ends. It is a lesson in finding the good in life, however that good may masquerade.

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Filed under Caregiving Backstage, My Bookshelf ~ Current Era