Friday, March 30, 2007

A Taste of Arabia by Jessie Kirkness Parker

People in other countries often ask, “What food do you eat in the United Arab Emirates and can you get all the food items you want?” To which, I say, you can get it all and more, even Australian Vegemite!

The range of restaurants is broad and varied. Even in the small city of Fujairah, there are numbers of Indian, Chinese and Iranian restaurants and a Lebanese restaurant that looks like a giant version of Freddie Flintstone’s home.

If you asked a local to tell you their favourite food, chances are they’ll say, ‘Chicken Biryani,’ such is its popularity. It is harder to define what is quintessentially, Emirati cuisine.

Jessie Kirkness Parker’s book, A Taste of Arabia: Recipes and Customs from Arabia and Beyond, is most helpful in defining the essence of Emirati food. The book is stylishly presented, illustrated with mouth-watering photos and delightful pictures of early UAE when the author and her husband first arrived in the country in the early 1970s. The book is not just a collection of recipes but fascinating descriptions of Arabian or Emirati culture as they relate to the selection, preparation, serving and enjoyment of food and drink.

With a wash of the hands and a ‘Bismillah’ (Praise be to God), the meal begins. Rice is normally on the menu in the Emirates. Often flavored and colored, it is generally served on enormous platters. Sometimes the rice is mixed with meat, fruit and nuts. The locals don’t worry about rice exceeding its expiry date. On the contrary, they greatly value mature rice and will lay it down for ten years or more.

With the UAE in its earlier incarnation being a sparsely populated country of fishing villages, the harvest of the sea is still common on Emirati tables. There is a variety of fish in the markets and, compared with many other countries, fish is most reasonable. Prawns and hammour, the meaty fish from the groper family, are usually on the menu in UAE restaurants.

Chicken, Parker asserts, has now replaced fish as the major accompaniment of rice. Lamb and beef, stewed, grilled or barbequed, are also popular, with pork not making a show.

Expect to be offered plenty of bread, often served as appetizers with sensual dips, such as hommous. Beans and grains abound—lentils, dahl and chick peas—along with salads such as rocca and tabbouleh. Herbs like za’atar or Arabic thyme, add to the robust flavours.

Some of these recipes might be found in Iran or India, as they are often passed on as people have traveled and settled. So, is there a dish as unique to the Arabian Peninsula as kim chi is to Korea or suishi is to Japan? Jessie Parker says that “the mysteries of the region’s flavors are locked into a unique Arabic spice mixture called biz’har (Arabic marsala)… Secreted into [the biz’har recipe] is the exotic flavour of dried lime, called loomi with its souring qualities of both lemon peel and the bracing freshness of a spritz of lime.”

The Arabian culture has its special food and customs, from the pre-dinner serving of coffee (gah’wa) poured into dinky cups from the curvaceous pot, to the highly versatile dates and distinctive garnishes. Some of the dishes have a strong association with Ramadan and other festive occasions.

Teas, whether traditional or spiced with za’atar or mint, are always at hand and are often used to break a fast. Jugs of lime juice are popular in this hot country but for something more substantial there is laban or drinking yoghurt, derived from the milk of goats or cows and often spiked with ginger and served with a dash of salt.

Interestingly, sweets are rarely served at the end of a meal but are offered with a mid-morning coffee or tea. Parker says, “Middle Eastern desserts are irresistible, mouthfuls of nutty, crunch and sweet, sticky luscious creaminess.”

With such descriptions of down to earth dishes and an appreciation of basic, fresh ingredients one only needs some gastronomical adventure and be able to say the word, Sa’ha’tian—bon appetit!

Geoff Pound

Source: Jessie Kirkness Parker, A Taste of Arabia: Recipes and Customs from Arabia and Beyond (Dubai: Jerboa Books, 2006).


Magical Stage Play by Joan Didion

Charles McNulty reviews the adaptation of Joan Didion’s book, The Year of Magic Thinking, into a stage play.

It does not seem to be the usual Broadway fare as the retelling of Didion’s grief in the year following the death of her husband has a naked candor:

McNulty records the scene and some of the words from the Didion reenactment by Vanessa Redgrave:

Didion, Hare [producer] and Redgrave have approached their task with a stark Beckettian determination. Stillness rules a set marked by a solitary wooden deck chair and hanging canvases of abstract patterns in muted colors that change with falling dropcloths. Nothing extraneous is allowed to distract from the ensuing trance-like contemplation.

A vision of white and gray, with her hair pulled back to reveal a pair of blue eyes that stare out with an oceanic intensity, Redgrave resembles a mythological figure who has traveled to a place of total darkness and filed a report for our collective enlightenment.

“This happened on December 30, 2003,” she says, naming the date when Didion's husband died of a heart attack while seated in the couple's New York apartment with a second pre-dinner drink. "That may seem a while ago, but it won't when it happens to you. And it will happen to you. The details will be different, but it will happen to you. That's what I'm here to tell you.”

Source: For the entire review see Charles McNulty, Redgrave’s Séance of ‘Magical Thinking, LA Times March 30, 2007.

Image: Vanessa Redgrave

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Movie, Gabbeh

In the opening scene of the Iranian film, Gabbeh, viewers are confronted with a riot of colour‑colourful costumes, bright scenery and a dazzling gabbeh (hand made rug), woven by Iranian nomads. Some viewers have wondered whether this is a colour overkill but there is an interesting story behind this.

Film maker and director Mohsen Makhmalbaf found through the 1980s that he was becoming more and more out of step with the Iranian fundamentalist regime. Film makers had to get permission from the government to make films, and, as Makhmalbaf was increasingly becoming a vocal critic of the government, all his requests were turned down.

An organization that sold Iranian handcrafts approached him with the request that he might make a documentary that might boost sales of the gabbeh. Makhmalbaf submitted the proposal and the government thought this subject was innocuous and would mean he would not be annoying them if he was making a movie about nomadic carpet makers in the back blocks of Iran.

The film maker turns up the colour not for aesthetic reasons but to make a prophetic statement. The Iranian government had become prescriptive about the clothes Iranian women were to wear and required that they be clad in grey, brown or black. Makhmalbaf’s use of colourful costumes, and colourful rugs made from nature’s colourful dyes are his attempt to challenge the severity and oppression of the government.

The film maker is a prophet who will not be muzzled as he seeks a way to get his message across. Like tellers of parables Makhmalbaf presents a documentary about nomadic rug makers but within this story he weaves revolutionary threads to declare that life is colour. Regimes that are turning life into a narrow black and white existence are challenged to give people the freedom to weave the story of their lives out of the colourful threads of creation.

Geoff Pound

Sources: Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s film, Gabbeh, 1996.
Godfrey Cheshire, Audio Commentary and article ‘A Carpet of light: Gabbeh’ (on the Special Features of the DVD)

Image: Picture from the film, Gabbeh.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Morris West in The Shoes of the Fisherman

Morris West was a prolific Australian author who died in circumstances he probably would have wished—sitting at his desk writing the final chapters of his book, The Last Confession.

He trained to be a Christian Teaching Brother but did not take his final vows. Living for most of his life in Europe, he addressed themes in politics, particularly the role of the Roman Catholic Church in shaping international affairs.

It is interesting to note that his popular book, The Shoes of the Fisherman, which envisaged the election of a Slavic Pope, was published in 1963, fifteen years before the ascension of the Polish priest, KarolWojtyla, to become John Paul II.

The plot of many of his novels played around a central question. In this excerpt from The Shoes of the Fisherman, which was adapted into a film, Morris West raises important questions about the nature of service and the qualities of effective leadership.

It begins with a conversation between two cardinals who had gathered to elect a new Pope.

Cardinal Rinaldi said, "What would you do if you had to begin again?"
"I've thought about it often," said Leone heavily.

"If I didn't marry—and I'm not sure but that's what I needed to make me half human—I'd be a country priest with just enough theology to hear confession and just enough Latin to get through Mass and the sacramental formulae. But with heart enough to know what griped in the guts of other men and made them cry into their pillows at night.

I'd sit in front of my church on a summer evening and read my office and talk about the weather and the crops and learn to be gentle with the poor and humble with the unhappy ones.... You know what I am now? A walking encyclopaedia of dogma and theological controversy. I can smell out an error faster than a Dominican. And what does it mean?

Nothing. Who cares about theology except the theologians? We are necessary but less important than we think. The church is Christ—Christ and people. And all the people want to know is whether or no there is a God and what is His relationship with them and how they can get back to Him when they stray."

"Large questions," said Rinaldi gently, "not to be answered by small minds or gross ones."

Leone shook his lion's mane stubbornly.
"For the people, they come down to simplicities!
Why shouldn't I covet my neighbour's wife?
Who takes the revenge that is forbidden to me?
And who cares when I am sick and tired and dying in an upstairs room?
I can give them a theologian's answer. But whom do they believe but the man who feels the answers in his heart and bears the scars of their consequences in his own flesh?
Where are the men like that?
Is there one among all of us who can wear the red hat?”

Geoff Pound

Source: Morris West, The Shoes of the Fisherman, Heinemann, London 1963, 6-7.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Leadership Jazz by Max de Pree

In his book, Leadership Jazz, Max de Pree says: “I enjoy jazz and one way to think about leadership is to consider a jazz band leader. Jazz-band leaders must choose the music, find the right musicians and perform – in public.

But the effect of the performance depends on so many things—the environment, the [people] playing in the band, the need for everybody to perform as individuals and as a group, the absolute dependence of the leader on the members of the band, the need of the leaders for the followers to play well. That’s not a bad summary of an organization!

Jazz band leadership is an expression of servant leadership. For the leader of a jazz band has the opportunity to draw the best out of the other musicians. And jazz, like leadership, combines the unpredictability of the future with the gifts of individuals.”

Writing [p102-103] about how we might draw out the creativity of our staff, Max de Pree picks up his favourite image again and says, “Creative work needs the ethos of jazz….. A [Jazz] Leader will pick the tune, set the tempo, start the music and define a ‘style’.

After that it’s up to the band to be disciplined and free, wild and restrained, leaders and followers, focused and wide-ranging, playing the music for the audience and accountable to the requirements of the band.

Jazz-band leaders know how to integrate the voices in the band without diminishing their uniqueness. The individuals in the band are expected to play solo and together. What a refreshing way to think about leadership and working with staff to create a vital and productive organization!”

De Pree users colorful, contemporary images that stimulate reader reflection.

One of the most insightful books on a well-worked topic, that addresses the best style of leadership.

Max De Pree, Leadership Jazz (New York: Dell Publishing, 1992), 8-9, 102-3.

Image: Leadership Jazz.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ali, the Movie

There is a powerful speech of defiance in the 2001 film Ali.

In this film on the life of the famous boxer Cassius Clay's/Muhammed Ali's (Will Smith) gives his reason for refusing to serve in Vietnam as a conscientious objector:

"I ain't draft dodging. I ain't burning no flag. I ain't running to Canada. I'm staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I've been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain't going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people.”

“If I want to die, I'll die right here, right now, fightin' you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality.”

“Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won't even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won't even stand up for my right here at home."

You My Opposer

Source: Ali.

Image: The boxer.

A S Byatt and Possession

A. S. Byatt’s Booker Prize winning book, Possession, is a fascinating novel published in 1990 and it was transformed in 2002 into a film.

The story is about two scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. From the discovery of letters they work like literary Sherlock Holmes, unearthing details about the love that developed between the Victorians and becoming entwined with each other in the process.

In an insightful article on the book’s origins and title Byatt said the idea came to her in the sixties. She writes, “I thought of it in the British Library, watching that great Coleridge scholar, Kathleen Coburn, circumambulating the catalogue. I thought: she has given all her life to his thoughts, and then I thought: she has mediated his thoughts to me. And then I thought ‘Does he possess her, or does she possess him? There could be a novel called Possession about the relations between living and dead minds.’

‘Does he possess her, or does she possess him?’ This is a good question to be asked.

Geoff Pound

Image: Possession, the book.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

American Beauty: It's Never Too Late

This film gets off to a dramatic start with Lester Burnham's (Kevin Spacey) opening voice-over:

"My name is Lester Burnham. This is my street. This is my neighborhood. This is my life. I am 42 years old. In less than a year, I will be dead. Of course, I don't know that yet, and in a way, I'm dead already. Look at me, jerking off in the shower. This will be the highlight of my day. It's all downhill from here. That's my wife Carolyn. See the way the handle on those pruning shears match her gardening clogs? That's not an accident. That's our neighbor, Jim, and that's his lover, Jim. Man, I get exhausted just watching her. She wasn't always like this. She used to be happy. We used to be happy. My daughter, Jane. Only child. Janie's a pretty typical teenager: angry, insecure, confused. I wish I could tell her that's all going to pass...but I don't want to lie to her. Both my wife and daughter think I'm this gigantic loser. And in a way, they're right. I have lost something. I'm not exactly sure what, but I know I didn't always feel this...sedated. But you know what? It's never too late to get it back."

Geoff Pound

Source: American Beauty, 1999.

Mrs. Brown: The Movie

In the movie, Mrs. Brown, Queen Victoria is in a deep depression after the death of her husband Albert when her advisers come up with an idea. They send for her pony to be brought to Balmoral, accompanied by a handsome Scot named John Brown. She is not interested in being cheered up, and is infuriated when she looks out in the royal courtyard to see John Brown standing at attention beside her saddled pony. Day after day she refuses to go down. Day after day he returns. Finally she sends someone to tell him that she is not now and may never be interested in riding. John Brown is unmoved. "When her majesty does wish to ride," he says, "I shall be ready."

Geoff Pound

Image: Poster of the film, Mrs. Brown.

Requiem for the East by Andrei Makine

The Russian novelist, Andrei Makine, has lived in France since the1980’s and writes superbly about the Stalin era and its aftermath.

He has a telling account in his novel, Requiem for the East. It concerns Pavel who is returning from the Second World War, getting used to Moscow with life being reasonably normal, but with memories of his involvement elsewhere in the war, memories that cannot be avoided.

Makine writes of Pavel: “He was still living in the days when after a battle soldiers would pace numbly up and down among the dead, getting used to being alive.”

What a powerful phrase that is. So many people around us are very much alive, but alive with the constant threat of abuse, or rejection, or failure, or never being understood, or pain, or approaching death, or distracting wealth, or addictive power. This is living, but what kind of living?

Geoff Pound

Image: Andrei Makine’s Requiem for the East.

Murray Bail's Book, Eucalyptus

In Murray Bail’s book Eucalyptus there is a wonderful story about an Italian fruit shop owner in Carlton. He reckoned he was the first shop keeper in Melbourne to call himself a FRUITOLOGIST which was painted in green letters outside his shop.

His shop in Carlton was famous for its displays of fruit. Not the usual pyramids of apples—instead he did detailed maps of Italy using green and yellow peppers, the state of Queensland to celebrate the mango season. National flags, football, clocks and cyclists were some of his memorable subjects.

As he got better he turned to fruit sculptures of nativity scenes, Ayers Rock using red Tasmanian apples, anti-war scenes using custard apples, cantaloupes, and pineapples. It was good for business, it gave great pleasure to customers and people would come by each Monday and say, "What have you dreamed up for us this week?"

Working next door in the cake shop was a young woman. Occasionally she stepped into his shop to buy a bunch of grapes but she'd barely say ‘thank you’. Whenever she passed, he paused to look at her. Never once did she acknowledge him. Never once did she take an interest in his fruit displays.

This woman had extraordinary blue eyes — eyes like those of a Persian cat. Even more extraordinary was the way she was always looking at herself — every time she passed a mirror, a window, a shiny car bonnet or even a puddle — she would look and preen herself. Here was self-absorption to the extreme.

The fruitologist was not very handsome but he became obsessed with her. He'd love to develop a friendship so he spent all his time trying to catch her attention. One Sunday he drew up a list of exotic fruit. He went to the market and selected each item for weight, shape and evenness. Then on Monday the customers gathered when he raised the shutters. He was like a politician unveiling a bronze stature. All the tourists were clicking their cameras and a lecturer in Art History at the nearby University called it a masterpiece.

Then she appeared. As she arrived in high heels he left his customer in mid sentence to move to the front of the shop. She was in a hurry but she looked at herself in reflective surfaces. She walked straight passed the window without noticing anything special. On her way out her attention was caught not by this fruit sculpture but by the side mirror of a parked truck.

But there she was — modelled in the window, her head on bare shoulders, pictured in this amazing fruit mosaic. It had her peaches and cream complexion, there was sliced apple and dates for her nose, paw paw for her forehead, a banana for her chin, pomegranate to display her glistening teeth, kiwifruit fur for her eyebrows, luscious, juicy plums for her lips, a bunch of guavas for her ears, pears formed her shoulders and other bits and pieces too subtle to immediately recognise contributed to the whole.
With a split in the forehead and a delicate placement of nectarines and figs he had even captured her self obsession.

It was all there in loving accuracy, all except the eyes. He had been unable to find a light blue fruit. For without the eyes she apparently could not see herself.

Geoff Pound

Source: Murray Bail, Eucalyptus, 119.

Julian Barnes, Arthur and George

In a description of the writer Arthur Conan Doyle, Julian Barnes captures the detective writer’s calling and his awareness of what he was seeking to do. Barnes says:

“As he [Arthur Conan Doyle] sat down at his desk to begin his draft, he felt, for the first time since Touie’s [his wife] death, a sense of the properness of things. After the depression and guilt and lethargy, after the challenge and the call to action, he was where he belonged: a man at his desk with a pen in his hand, eager to tell a story and to make people see things differently.”

Source: Julian Barnes, Arthur and George (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005), 256.

Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven

You don’t have to be a jockey or a gambler to enjoy Jane Smiley’s book, Horse Heaven. She’s has a long fascination for horses but this intriguing novel was written after two years of closely watching horsey antics on the race horse circuit around the world.

Tiffany Morse who works at Wal-Mart is described by the author thinking about what she really wants in life. Jane Smiley takes up Tiffany’s reflections:

“After she had gotten into bed and turned out the light, she thought that all she had was the same prayer she had uttered before. She lay on her back and looked at the ceiling. She whispered, “Please make something happen here.” Tiffany sighed. This was a prayer that always worked. Unfortunately, it didn’t always work as she had hoped. For example, she had prayed for a job, and gotten hired at Wal-Mart. She had prayed for a boyfriend, and attracted the deathless interest of Lindsay Wicks, her dampest, palest co-worker. She had prayed for a couch, and her mother had decided to buy a new one, passing the seventeen-year-old brown thing on to Tiffany, who was required to be grateful. She continued, “This time, I mean it.”

Geoff Pound

Source: Jane Smiley, Horse Heaven, (London: Faber and Faber), 21.

Condensed Books: The New Trend

No Time For Reading
Dale Roberts, North Carolina College Career Counselor, is plotting a dream which illustrates the fast pace of modern life.

He asks, “Have you experienced the thrill of intellectual accomplishment, the deep and abiding sense of achievement that comes after reading one of the great classic books of Western civilization? Me neither.”

The problem with those great books is they are so-o-o-o-o lo-o-o-o-ong. Those guys had way too much time on their hands.

Long Book Simple Plot
Take "Romeo and Juliet." What happens, really? Two Italian teenagers fall in love, but their families hate each other. Things don't work out, and they both end up dead.

I tried reading shorter classics, like "The Old Man and the Sea": An old guy goes fishing and hooks this humongous fish. It's hard to catch, but he catches it. On his way home some sharks eat it. They told me this Hemingway guy wrote short and to the point. Wrong!

I looked for versions of classics that wouldn't waste my time. I tried the Reader's Digest condensed Bible, but I got bored reading about the Nine Tribes of Israel and the Seven Commandments. I tried Cliffs Notes - still too long.

New Book Range
Then it came to me: I'll publish my own library - "Great Book Cards of the Western World." The cards are 3-by-5 inches - just the right size for pocket or purse.

Some forthcoming entries:

"Moby Dick" - A guy named Ahab is hunting a white whale when he falls in the water and the whale bites his leg off. He goes crazy and tries to find the whale and get even. He finds the whale but the whale sinks his ship and Ahab gets killed.

"The Grapes of Wrath" - During the Depression, the Joad family in Oklahoma loses their farm and falls on hard times. They pack up their stuff and drive to California, but things aren't so great there either.

I'll also do nonfiction: "The Prince" by Machiavelli - Look out for Number One. You can fool some of the people some of the time, and usually that's enough. Watch your back.

Inspiration in Dozen Seconds
You can read each of my book cards in 10 seconds. Just the thing when you're in line at the supermarket or stopped at a red light. My first series of book cards will include 100 titles. Readers can buy them individually. If they buy all 100, I'll throw in a diminutive bookcase.
After I publish the first series of books, I might do a bigger project: a book-card edition of the encyclopedia.

You got a minute?

Source: Dale Roberts, ‘Backstory: Great Books Reduced to a Pinhead’ CS Monitor, 22 September 2006.

Image: Moby Dick

Celebrating The Little Prince

It is so good that the champagne corks have been popping in France and around the world. Celebrations are raging in recognition of the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of the wonderful classic, The Little Prince. The stage play, Le Petit Prince, is running in Paris and a special opera, Der Kleine Prinz, is in full swing in Germany’s Karlsruhe. With 500 different editions and a range of stationery, mugs, glasses and toys The Little Prince is quite an enterprise.

The idea of the book emerged in 1942 as a drawing on a paper napkin in a New York restaurant. From this small beginning and the encouragement of the publisher it has sold more than 80 million copies around the world and has been translated into 160 different languages. There have been 11 million copies of the book sold in France making Le Petit Prince the most popular French book in the world.

The author, Antoine Saint-Exupery, was a pilot living in exile in the USA before taking to the skies again against the Nazi occupiers of his native France. When the story was published in France in 1946, sadly the author was not alive to see it as he disappeared in his plane over the Mediterranean Sea.

Children love this book perhaps because grownups are made out to be narrow and unimaginative whilst children are shown to be sensitive, enquiring and besotted with the beauty and mystery of the world. However, it is not for children alone. The book has important themes that adults need to be reminded of‑the broadening of the mind, the arousal of curiosity and the encouragement to explore the world in all its richness.

I am grateful to have been introduced to this book by a Spiritual Director who was prodding me to explore the richness of the spiritual dimension [thanks John!]. He was encouraging me to make a deliberate time each day to meet with God and to illustrate his point he shared with me this wonderful excerpt from The Little Prince:

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a distance from me—like that—in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”

The next day the little prince came back.
“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you came at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you…”[i]

Geoff Pound

Image: Front Cover, The Little Prince.

[i] Saint-Exupéry, Antoine De. The Little Prince. London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1945, 65-66

The Year of Magical Thinking

One of the key goals in writing or acting, even about something that is very familiar, is to enable people to feel they are hearing the story for the first time.

In an article for the New York Times, writer Joan Didion presents her reflections on the process of turning her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, into a stage play.

The book and the play focus on the grueling year following the death of Didion’s husband, which occurred before the death of their daughter.

Practices are taking place at the moment in the rehearsal studio on West 42nd Street. David Hare from London is directing this Broadway production. Vanessa Redgrave is playing the part of Joan Didion.

Looking out from the stage Didion says:

“There are 767 seats in the Booth Theater. Those seats either will or will not be filled. It would be hard to say at this moment which prospect alarms me more: either is the nightmare in which you get pushed onstage without a script.”

In chronicling the rehearsal phase Didion identifies one of the more poignant moments:

“One afternoon three months later the three of us first heard the play, alone in the Lion Theater on West 42nd Street, an actress sitting in a chair onstage and reading. As she spoke the first words, I could not breathe.”

Getting nearer to the opening date (at the end of March 2007) Didion shares this cameo:

“Some days I think it’s working and other days I think it’s not. But I remember a February evening when Vanessa went to see the dressing rooms at the Booth. Like a mermaid sensing water, she moved to the stage. She began saying the play. There it was: Vanessa Redgrave was standing on a stage in an empty theater and she was telling me a story I was hearing for the first time.”

Source: Joan Didion, ‘The Year of Hoping for Stage Magic,’ The New York Times, March 4, 2007.

Image: Vanessa Redgrave and Joan Didion.

Introducing 'Church: Why Bother?' by Philip Yancey

Eugene Peterson in his foreword to Philip Yancey’s book, Church: Why Bother? My Personal Pilgrimage,[1] recounts this delightful story from his family’s memory bank:

“A favorite story in our home as our children were growing up was of John Muir at the top of the Douglas fir in the storm.[2] Whenever we were assaulted by thunder and lightning, rain sluicing out of the sky, and the five of us, parents and three children, huddled together on the porch enjoying the dangerous fireworks from our safe ringside seat, one of the kids would say, ‘Tell us the John Muir story, Daddy.’ And I’ll tell it again.”

“In the last half of the nineteenth century, John Muir was our most intrepid and worshipful explorer of the western extremities of our North American continent. For decades he tramped up and down through our God-created wonders, from the Californian Sierras to the Alaskan glaciers, observing, reporting, praising, and experiencing—entering into whatever he found with childlike delight and mature reverence.”

“At one period during this time (the year was 1874) Muir visited a friend who had a cabin, snug in a valley of one of the tributaries of the Yuba River in the Sierra Mountains—a place from which to venture into the wilderness and then return for a comforting cup of tea.”

“One December day a storm moved in from the Pacific—a fierce storm that bent the junipers and pines, the madronas and fir trees as if they were so many blades of grass. It was for such times this cabin had been built: cozy protection from the harsh elements. We easily imagine Muir and his host safe and secure in his tightly caulked cabin, a fire blazing against the cruel assault of the elements, wrapped in sheepskins, Muir meditatively rendering the wilderness into his elegant prose. But our imaginations, not trained to cope with Muir, betray us. For Muir, instead of retreating to the coziness of the cabin, pulling the door tight, and throwing another stick of wood on the fire, strode out of the cabin into the storm, climbed a high ridge, picked a giant Douglas fir as the best perch for experiencing the kaleidoscope of color and sound, scent and motion, scrambled his way to the top, and rode out the storm, lashed by the wind, holding on to dear life, relishing weather; taking it all in—its rich sensuality, its primal energy.”

I am not surprised that this episode became a treasure in the Peterson family’s memory bank. I wonder what the story meant for Eugene’s children and what it inspired them to be and do. Like all good stories this one has many applications. Here is Eugene’s application as he commends a book on Philip Yancey’s pilgrimage with the church:

“…this [story] became a kind of icon of Christian spirituality for our family…. A standing rebuke against becoming a mere spectator to life, preferring creature comforts to Creator confrontations.”

Purchasing Yancey’s book is worth it just for the foreword.

Geoff Pound

Image: Church: Why Bother?

[1] Philip Yancey, Church: Why Bother? My Personal Pilgrimage Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1998. This story by Peterson appears in the Foreword, 7-11.
[2] Edwin Way Teale, ed. The Wilderness of John Muir Boston: Houghton & Mufflin, 1954, 181-90.

An Inconvenient Truth

The Academy award winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, is based on the lecture by former US Vice President Al Gore about global warning. On a flight to SE Asia recently I learned more about its origins.

It concerns Jeff Skoll, a co-founder of eBay and Canada’s youngest billionaire who is turning Hollywood upside down financing activist films, like An Inconvenient Truth, and making them box office hits.

Skoll is a softy spoken man who, instead of hoarding his wealth, is seeking to get people involved in world issues with ‘participant movies’ that challenge people to get involved, as well as leading a raft of philanthropic ventures.

How did this self-confessed, aimless drifter get involved in such worthwhile causes? Skoll identifies two triggers. His father Morton came home one evening and told Jeff and his older sister that he had a terminal illness. “That brought home to me that we don’t know how much time we have, and you really need to maximize the opportunities you have to accomplish the things you consider important.”

He decided he wanted to write stories that would get people involved in bigger issues in the world,” he said. “But I wanted to become financially independent in order to write. This led me to an entrepreneurial path that culminated in eBay.”

Source: David Gritten, ‘The Thinking Man’s Mogul’, Open Skies, October 2006, Issue # 223, Dubai, UAE.

Image: Movie image

New Book on Mentoring

This new book on mentoring is a republication of a rare, difficult to obtain book with the new title: Lover of Life: F W Boreham’s Tribute to His Mentor. It comes with a new foreword and epilogue.

There are other books which deal comprehensively with the important nuts and bolts of mentoring as well as building a rationale.

Lover of Life, in the captivating Boreham style, tells the story of a mentoring relationship. Written in his retirement, after he had surveyed his life and penned his autobiography, Boreham realized how crucial his mentor had been to him and his wife. Frank Boreham writes this tribute to J. J. Doke and in the process enables readers to see the indispensable elements in every productive mentoring relationship.

Lover of Life is a tantalizing sketch of Joseph John Doke, a Baptist Minister, artist and author, who was born in 1861 and ministered in England, New Zealand and South Africa. It is the stirring account of a frail man who became a fighter against discriminating legislation and an advocate with Mahatma Gandhi in championing the freedom of Indians in South Africa. As well as serving as pastor of the Johannesburg Baptist church Doke participated in protests, contributed to newspapers and had the distinction of writing the first biography of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1913 he visited Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) to explore a new development for the South African Baptist Missionary Society and died tragically on his way home.

Many people today speak about mentoring as if it is a new phenomenon about which contemporary leaders should be engaged. It has been called by different names (supervision, curacy, direction) but the practice has been around forever and was superbly practiced by J J Doke and F W Boreham.

Instead of offering a treatise on Effective Mentoring, Boreham in his inimitable way tells stories of how it worked for him and how pivotal such a relationship was in his own life and career as an author.

This book is a good stimulus to anyone embarking on a new mentoring relationship. This short story about the friendship between J J Doke and Frank Boreham provides a wealth of insight and a hopeful vision of what a mentoring relationship might become.

Geoff Pound

Image: Lover of Life