Monday, May 16, 2016

Why I love my Kindle

For one thing, it fits in my evening bag. Every book I have ever loved, and all the new ones in the world fit into a tiny bejeweled thing whose very existence is antithetic to an evening with a book. For me, that makes it a magical object straight out of Harry Potter, like Hermione’s bottomless bag.

Then there's the sheer breadth and scope of it. A press of a button is the soft thump of a library door, book-lined corridors stretching into infinity, an endless sunshiny Saturday afternoon. Whatever happened to all the William books? Well here are a few, ready to read in a minute. Haven’t seen an old-fashioned Mills & Boon in years or craving the fifth book of the Hitchhiker’s Guide? You can find it now, no need to get up. Want something new but not too much so? Here are some recommendations based on the types of books you like to read. What was that book about a nutmeg someone was talking about at the dinner party? Here’s a Google search and yes, there’s the book. One click and downloading now. It’s an almost overwhelming luxury.

I was an annoying kid, so my external primary school world was essentially solitary, but on the inside, cobbled streets and pavement cafes were crowded with fictitious beings and imaginary lives more compelling than the real one. Over the years plenty of actual people wandered in too, but my first friends were the books. I still like them to come with me; you never know when you might need an old friend. With the Kindle, they can.

In my parents’ house there was a small bookshelf behind the big ones, covered with dust and filled with the yellowing remains of the first “big” books I came across. Hardy, Tolstoy, Dumas and Shakespeare were not pulp fiction so they were not kept out of reach, but some of these were very big books indeed for an 11-year-old. Tess, for example, was read too early. As for Tolstoy and Shakespeare, I understood maybe one word in five, but I powered through anyway (it was good training for a career in advertising).

There were also age-appropriate books in there containing wondrous facts like baby swans are yellow and called cygnets, and what a Lipizzaner stallion is. When I booked my first holiday at 32, it was to Vienna, drawn by an echo of that word, a dim but persistent impression of castles and waltzes. Other such books brought into our lives Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons, the redness of Mars and the existence of Australia. Dinosaurs, meteors, the Bermuda triangle and Apollo 11 are forever connected in my head to horses and baby birds.

The point is, the books came first and early, and inform everything I see and do. They remain my happy place. I love the social round, dressing up and laughing and being loud. So I’m glad the awkward, hyper-sensitive side now gets to bring her armchair by the window, a sequined blanket and a pile of books; she no longer feels the need to demand attention and cramp my style. The Kindle: More effective than medication, far more addictive and with no harmful side effects.

Friday, May 06, 2016

To the young waiters in Den & Trang

Thank you for the smile of recognition after two years. And the questions you clearly want to ask (as do I), but we have never had enough of the other’s language to go beyond `orders and bills.

So thank you, in writing, for still being here. I saw the scaffolding next door from a distance and I thought you’d closed, and I really needed you to still be here today. That's one of the reasons I am sniffling at my laptop. I’m sorry about that, but there’s nobody here and anyway this is my table.

I notice your piano’s still here. So are the weird aquarium decorations, though I see the drowned giraffes and elephants have been taken out. I guess someone has begun to take a practical look at the place and monetize it. Your menu is the same but the food has improved and the coffee deteriorated. You have new tables and chairs; the old black and white sewing machine tables are being phased out. You are selling the cacti that used to sit on your tables – I wish I could take one, except I don’t like cacti and I can’t bring your mainland soil into the island I live on now. And tell me, have the creepers hanging down your wall always had plastic ones mixed with the real? They used to smell of rainforest when it rained; I doubt they’ve invented plastic that can do that. That's okay, change happens. It’s a good thing in the long run, even if you did like those little wooden giraffes - I remember you seemed to. They amused me too, every time.

I got two tiny tattoos yesterday, they stand for transformation and integrity, my two defining qualities. My lightness has gone too, but those remain unchanged.

I will leave soon, sooner than I expected. Meanwhile thank you for remembering my table, for having noticed that I used to like the wind chimes and waving apologetically to the tree where they no longer hang. I come here not only for the friends I miss every day, but also for the place where I am equally happy to be alone. And that's your fundamental quality that is unchanged. May there be other cafes for me wherever I go, and other regulars for you.

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