Thursday, April 27, 2006

Word Cloud

Thanks to guinessgirl, my blog has its own Word Cloud! I love how revealing it is.

Get yours here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Creative Writing

I did it! I signed up for a Creative Writing course! This is something I had been wanting to do for quite a while now so I am glad I made the call and enrolled. I guess this is going to mean more writing on paper and less on the blog (for a while atleast). It's a busy time right now and I didn't think I would be able to make time for this course, but with a little juggling I managed to rearrange my schedule at the hospital so that it frees time up for the program.

The Book of Judith


(1) A wife of Esau, daughter of Beeri the Hittite (Gen 26:34).
(2) The heroine of the Book of Judith in Apocrypha--a pious, wealthy, courageous, and patriotic widow who delivered Jerusalem and her countrymen from the assault of Holofernes. (source:

(source of pic:

Today's BBC's "Womans Hour" featured one of the most fascinating women from the Bible : Judith. I find her fascinating not just because of how she saved her town, but also, growing up, she was an enigma to me. At religion class in school ( I went to a Christian school) we weren't allowed to talk about her - she was considered a harlot, a Jezebel; but to my Catholic friends she was a heroine, a savior. So naturally, she piqued my curiosity - who is this woman, so reviled by some and yet adored by others? I set out to read the story of Judith, and this is what I found at

The Assyrian King Nebuchadnezzar sent his chief general Holofernes to lead an army west to Judea. On the way, Holofernes plundered numerous towns, so that news of his approach reached across the land. Despite a warning from one soldier that the people of the western lands were defended by God, Holofernes planned to capture the small Jewish town of Bethulia. Hearing of Holofernes' plot, Judith, a widowed resident of Bethulia, put on beautiful clothes and jewelry and entered the Assyrian camp, purporting to be a spy against the Jewish people. She promised to tell Holofernes how to destroy the Jews; but when Holofernes became drunk at a celebration, she followed him into his tent and cut off his head. Thrown into chaos by the death of their leader, the Assyrian army was easily defeated by the Jews of Bethulia, who celebrated Judith's clever plot against Holofernes. Judith never remarried, but was celebrated for the rest of her life as the heroine of Bethulia.

OK, so from what I read here, she does seem like a brave and courageous woman, so why is she so vilified by some churches? According to Rabbi Marcia Plumb of Southgate Reform Synagogue interviewed by Womanshour, Judith may not have been included in the Old Testaments of all Bibles because she is too strong a woman; she definitely more powerful than Esther, Ruth or any other woman featured in the Bible and besides, she is a seductress who kills a general and perhaps it was too threatening for those who canonize the Bible, to include her. Also, there is not a shred of archaeological evidence to suggest that Judith was a real person...

Judith has been many an artists' muse. She has been painted by Caravaggio, Michaelangelo (in the Sistine Chapel), Artemesia, Christophano Allori, Rembrandt and Gustav Klimt, just to name a few. In some paintings she is fully clothed but in others she is scantily clad perhaps coming across as a seductress to an observer,thus, even in art she is complex!

Whether her story is historical fiction or not, I think it's an inspirational one for women all over. She was brave, courageous and not afraid to speak out clearly and plainly. She refused to be intimidated by the men who told her not to go to Holofernes' tent and she was definitely not afraid to use her feminine charms to do something good for her people. A role model? Definitely!

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal by Afua Cooper

Format: Hardcover; Pages: 224; $32.95(CAN)

Read the First Chapter of the book

"The Hanging of Angelique"
The oldest slave narrative in the world

Why the author wrote the book:

Afua Cooper, ( UofT History professor and established writer of non-fiction, history, and poetry), took 15 years to research material (including learning French) for "The Hanging of Angelique"; 15 years is a long time to be so passionately commited to a project but Afua Cooper did it because she believes slavery in Canada is a well-kept secret and was determined to shatter that silence.

This is a quote from the book's foreword by George Elliott Clarke:

"...The avoidance of Canada's sorry history of slavery and racism is natural. It is how Canadians prefer to understand themselves: we are a nation of good, Nordic, "pure". mainly white folks, as opposed to the lawless, hot-tempered, impure, mongrel Americans, with their messy history of slavery, civil war, segregation, assassinations, lynching,riots and constant social turmoil."

But the price of this flattering self-portrait is falsified history and self-destructive blindness (think of the Canadian-led expedition to the Congo in 1880 or, more recently, Somalia in 1992). Afua Cooper hopes to change that by introducing her readers to the life of Canada's best-known African-Canadian slave, Marie-Joseph Angélique.

Publisher's Blurb:

Afua Cooper—writer, historian and poet—tells the astonishing story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a slave woman who was convicted of starting a fire that destroyed a large part of Montréal in April 1734. On appeal, her punishment of death by hanging was modified to an even crueler fate. No longer would she first have her hands cut off; the precursor to the gallows would now be forced to undergo "le torture extraordinaire," a brutalleg-crushing, to encourage her to name an accomplice—a white man, Angélique’s sometime lover. Cooper brings an unknown chapter in Canadian history brilliantly to life with this narrative of a rebellious Portuguese-born Black woman who refused to accept her indentured lot. In a dramatic retelling of Angélique’s life, Cooper sheds new light on what might have compelled a young woman to commit such a crime. At the same time, she completely demolishes the myth of a benign, slave-free Canada, revealing a damning centuries-old record of legally and culturally endorsed slavery. Not simply a tale of "Black" history, or even of Canadian history, "The Hanging of Angélique" is a universal story that resonates with a strong and insistent voice.

Why I liked this book:

Like most people I didn't know very much about the history of slavery in Canada and this book has truly opened my eyes. Ms. Cooper is a thorough researcher and as an introduction to the history of slavery, takes her readers to its source - Portugal, where she launches into a very enjoyable account of how Portugal came to dominate the world in the 15th century. She then goes on to describe how slaves became one of the most traded commodities in the world, surpassing gold, silk and so on, tracking their entry into the New World from Portugal with facts, stories and information that will interest and delight even the smallest history buff.

The personal story of Angelique, her arrival in Montreal and her troubled tenure with her owners is accurately narrated. I find Ms. Cooper never tries to plump up the tale with hoardes of descriptive paragraphs or long, reconstructed conversations, (except for Angélique's questioning by the court which is essential to the story). It is to the author's credit that her narration has a nice conversational style and rarely comes across as a dry retelling of history, on the contrary, you get so swept up into the life and times of Angelique that I found myself grimacing everytime I had to put the book down for unimportant activities like eating, sleeping and so on :)

Would I recommend this book? And to whom?

For anyone that enjoys history and/or stories about powerful women, this is the book for you. Angélique Marie-Joseph was an extraordinary woman - she may have been a slave but there was nothing subservient about her; her body may have been owned by her masters who paid cash for her, but her spirit wasn't. Cooper paints her as a free bird who just wouldn't cower down in the face of authority. She lived life on her own terms even if it meant losing it in the process. Surely that takes guts. To some, Angélique might come across as a villian, after all, she DID set fire to her mistress' house, but, we have to ask ourselves why she did it. Her naysayers would say it was so that she could run away with her white lover*, but thinking along those lines does Angélique a grave injustice. She may have been in love but the fire was set because she found her enslavement humiliating, suffocating and degrading.

The Canadian Board of Education should seriously consider making this book a history text book requiring mandatory reading. I doubt too many of our students have adequate information on slavery in Canada. Canada, with its "Underground Railroad", to which thousands of American slaves escaped to, is more known for being "Freedom's Land" than a slave-holding republic, but the truth is, slavery was institutionalized in this country for 206 years and we should stop going around as if it didn't exist.

*At Angelique's trial, the prosecution wasn't satisfied when Angelique admitted to setting the fire on her own. They wanted her to implicate her lover, a white man. The reason for this is that a woman setting a fire without an accomplice simply wasn't believable. In the thinking of those days, she was the weaker sex and could perform only petty crimes, not something as major as this, also, black people were considered childlike, with no sense of cunning or bravado that it would take to do arson, hence it was imperative that they find a "white" villian. Laughable, isn't it?

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Devil's Picnic by Taras Grescoe

# Hardcover: 372 pages
# Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (2005)
# Genre: Travel/Culinary

forbidden fruit
An indulgence or a pleasure that is illegal or is believed to be immoral.
"Forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest"

And isn't that precisely why we mere mortals desire forbidden fruit so much? Make it acceptable, it loses its notoreity and becomes commonplace. In order to put this to the test, travel writer Taras Grescoe decided to embark on a global culinary journey looking for food prohibited by various governments - " that had been vilified, demonised and banned by the lawmakers of the civilised world” and studying the effects it has had on the populations of those countries.

The Devil's Picnic: Around The World in Pursuit of Forbidden Fruit is cleverly laid out like a 9-course meal, starting with Chapter 1 aptly titled, "The Apertif" (Viking Moonshine in Norway) and ending with "Night Cap" ( pentobarbital sodium sipped by suicide tourists in Zurich). But between the apertif and nightcap, Grescoe tries everything from sipping tea laced with cocaine in Bolivia, to munching on "Marks & Spencers" poppy-seed crackers that are banned as "narcotics" in Singapore, to bull's testicles stewed in garlic and gravy in Spain... (a delicacy disappearing from restaurants because of anxieties over “mad cow” disease)

What he found is that prohibition, rather than limiting one's consumption of the forbidden substance, can actually cause people to covet it and it go to great lengths to procur it, leading to dangerous trends . To to give you just one of many examples he cites in his book, Norway, which has some of the greatest restrictions on alcohol sales, has a hidden associated binge-drinking culture. "...Getting staggeringly shellshacked on a Friday evening in Norway was a cultural norm. The overnight ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen is a notoriously debauched booze cruise, where adults, loading up on duty-free alcohol as soon as they hit international waters, peed in their jeans and vomited over their sweaters, returning with trunks full of Danish spirits. Drinking to excess was about overcoming legal, rather than psychological, constraints."

Also, because the price of alcohol is prohibitively expensive in Norway, inhabitants of the world's richest welfare state are reduced to drinking the Scandinavian equivalent of bathtub gin with at least 95 per cent alcohol, more useful for lighting fires than drinking!

Grescoe is a curious, witty, entertaining and perceptive writer and his encounters with forbidden foods make great "food for thought" - in Singapore he risks imprisonment for carrying three sticks of "Wrigley's" gum (banned, except for medicinal purposes) and a copy of "Fanny Hill", considered pornographic literature; in Switzerland he tastes absinthe, a huge fad among the arty crowd in the 1920's , but banned since then, and has this to report about an absinthe hangover:"I lay prone in the sun, oozing toxins, until the jackals stopped chewing out my belly and the larvae had finished tunnelling through my brain."

In France, he buys Époisses cheese which stinks (probably the whiffiest cheese in the world) so much it is banned on Paris metros (but ofcourse Grescoe has to carry it) and clears out half the metro! The other, more important reason for him buying Epoisses is because this unpasteurised cheese is banned in the US. He regards this as ridiculous, pointing out that E. coli in hamburger meat and listeria in all-American hot dogs have killed hundreds, while the listeria deaths linked to époisses were ultimately traced to a pasteurised version of the cheese. In San Francisco he smoked a Havana cigar, smuggled from across the border in Canada in defiance of US laws against importing Cuban goods, and so on.

In Bolivia, he chewed coco leaves like the natives do and found that it gave him a pleasant buzz that left him neither tired, nor hyper. In its non-industrial form, coca, whether chewed or served as a tea, is a relatively mild intoxicant whose health consequences are far less severe than alcohol and tobacco and yet, no country has imposed a blanket ban on tobacco!

The stories may be funny, but Grescoe has a serious message - he is of the opinion that governments ban substances not so much because they are harmful, but out of political and commercial motivation. He is not a liberatarian and does support moderate controls, but he does have a problem with governments trying to paternalistically keep people away from certain foods which they (the government) perceive as being "bad" for them. His solution? To slap a warning on an item considered bad for the health and then to let people make their own decisions on consumption. He is against outright bans because prohibition comes with its own set of problems. According to him, any authority that would prescribe incarceration for what we as individuals decide to eat, smoke or drink, is violating a fundamental human right. "... why in ostensibly free states should we be criminalized for behaviour that concerns no one but ourselves?"

He gets a little philosophical when he claims that when a government witholds the means to intoxication (which provides escapism, an important stress-relieving tool for humans) and other forms of sensual experience, “society denies its members self-knowledge and allocates itself punitive power over sexuality, consciousness, and self-determination—the most intimate domains of individuality.” Case in point, Singapore: a country so repressed sexually that their birthrates have dropped to an all time low and the government is now embarked on a campaign to encourage people to fall in love, get married and start families.

One other very insightful point he makes is this: wherever the forbidden (or potentially dangerous) foods happen to be a part of that population's culture, abuse of the substance is rare. For instance, in Bolivia where coco leaves are immersed in tea and soft drinks people don't have problems with cocaine addiction. The French, for all the wine, cheese and pastry, are neither alcoholic nor fat. So, is prohibition really the right answer? Grescoe says, there is a middle ground between abstinence and excess: it's called moderation. Let's say "Cheers" to that!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

2006 North American Bookcrossing Convention

This weekend Toronto hosts the North American 2006 Bookcrossing Convention. Thanks to Janelle's post, I was prompted to blog about it. I won't be attending the convention, but will be attending the grand pub party on Saturday night! There will be a lot of book releases all over the city of Toronto, so if you find one, you know what to do. And if perchance you see a bookcrosser (they are the ones walking about with the perpetual look of a hunter hoping to spy a book in the wild) do go up and say Howdy!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Last night I was very privileged to attend a fabulous dance recital with sasgirl and other friends from mybindi. The dance form we went to see is called "Bharatnatyam" and it has its origins in the temples, royal courts, private soirees and weddings of South India. The dance was originally performed by the devadasis (distinct communities of women performers) . The Devadasis often lived in women-centered households and many underwent a ritual marriage to a temple deity ,however, they were allowed to have relationships with male partners of their choice, and children born of such relationships were considered legitimate and took their mother's names.

In 1947, with the Indian reform movement, the world of the devadasis was altered forever and the government officially outlawed the devadasi lifestyle by passing the "Anti-Devadasi Act". The dasis were banned from singing and dancing; some were dislodged from their homes and even branded as "prostitutes".

Their dance form was thankfully reinvented by non-devadasi elites in the early 20th century as one of the "classical ' arts of India: BharatNatyam.

The Dance itself is a beautiful, but complex series of moves by a dancer in a linear or geometrical fashion oozing eroticism, longing, desire, sensualism - one has to watch for the eyes and the hand movements in particular because they are full of symbolism - it's like watching an exotic Indian sculpture come to life - sheer poetry! There is also a lot of intricate foot movement with the dancers' feet, wrapped in bells, often tapping out music comparable to a wonderful percussion instrument.

"Poornima" or Full Moon (and it was a beautiful full moon night yesterday) is the title of the show we girls went to see. It is a multimedia dance work created by Hari Krishnan, Toronto based Bharatanatyam dancer, choreographer, teacher and dance scholar. Purnima/Full Moon is one of his attempts to bring devadasi repertoire into the public eye. The performance consisted of songs that have not been sung outside the devadasi community for nearly 70 years, adapted and conceptualized for today's audiences. The performance environment was beautifully created with dance, the spoken word, shadow,light, image, and live music playing major roles. How I wish I had a video clip to upload here! It was bedazzling to say the least.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario

ISBN: 1400062055
Format: Hardcover, 320pp
Pub. Date: February 2006
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Interview with the author and pictures of "Enrique's Journey" on WBUR's "Here and Now"

Website for Enrique's Journey

The U.S. Immigration Debate

"The Pilgrim's Train", "The Iron Horse", "The Train that Devours", "The Beast", "The Train of Death" - so many conflicting appellations for this one train( journey) - which one am I describing?

It's one I hadn't heard of before I read Sonia Nazario's book "Enrique's Journey" and quite early into the book you are told that one of the ways Central Americans enter into the US illegally is by taking freight trains that run from Central America through Mexico. That may sound simple enough but the journey is as perilous as taking a stroll through tiger-infested jungles...

The Train Journey:

The migrants have to travel on "top" of the trains, precariously hanging on to the top and sides of the train so as not to fall off, and yet, plenty do when they inadvertently doze off or when pushed off the train onto the tracks by machete-weilding bandits who scour the trains looking to rob and rape migrants to fuel their drug habits. Other migrants have lost arms and legs trying to climb on or off the moving train during embarkation and just before the train pulls into a station.

In many ways, the wait between train journeys, when migrants have to hide themselves in bushes and away from 'la migra' or the police who brutally and routinely round them up for deportation to their home countries, is almost as dangerous as hanging on to the moving train, because, while they hide from the authorities they are in extreme danger of being assaulted and robbed by bandits who prey on these unfortunate migrants. Many of them have to spend the nights in sewage pipes, in the trees or in cemetaries and often they can go 2-3 days without even having a drink of water till their throats nearly swell shut; some kids will go without eating for 5 days...

The Migrants:

Who are these migrants? Why are so many of them young boys - some as young as 10 or 12 years - and what factors force them to make this perilous journey? These same questions intrigued journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Sonia Nazario and she decided to write a story on the journey of these young migrants through the life of one 16-year old boy from Honduras, Enrique (more on him later).

What Ms. Nazario found is that due to extreme poverty and the frequent disintegration of the family home in Central America, mothers of families that are starving (in some cases all they have to give them is a glass of sugared water to quiet their bellies at night) have been forced leave their children in the care of a relative and head north for the US with the expensive aid of smugglers. The intention is always to return but once in the US they get further and further into debt and often stay away for years much to the confusion and bewilderment of their kids who feel abandoned by them. Many of these kids,prompted by loneliness, abuse, neglect and a desire to know if their mothers still love them, go on "the trains" to look for their mothers in the US.

Enrique's Story:

Enrique is one such boy. His mother left to go north when he was 5 years old. Eleven years later the teenage boy became desperate to be reunited with his mother; convinced she wasn't coming back he began a perilous and illegal trek out of Central America, into Mexico,with a North Carolina phone number as the only clue to his mother's wherabouts. For most kids the journey is seldom successful - either they get caught and deported, maimed in an accident, go crazy or suffer other forms of trauma; even for the ones that do make it to the US, the reunion with their mothers isn't always as they had imagined it to be.

In order to write Enrique's story, Ms. Nazario retraces Enrique's steps, doing the journey exactly as he had done it. She wanted to "see and experience things as he had with the hope of describing them more fully". This included interviewing his family in Honduras, seeing his haunts...she traveled more than sixteen hundred miles, half of that on top of seven freight trains the length of two-thirds of Mexico. Everyday, like Enrique, she faced the fear of being beaten or robbed, yet she did it because she wanted the world to know what migrants really go through in their desperate bid for a better life. She also wanted to show us how the face of immigration has changed to include young, single mothers, pregnant women and children - not just adult males.

Enrique's story is a grim one - full of poverty, death, desperation and villians out to prey on the less fortunate, but in all that darkness there are also heroes and heroic deeds. For instance, when the freight trains pass through through the villages of Veracruz and Oxaaca in Northern Mexico, the villagers (poor,poor people who subsist on less than $2/day) rush up to the trains as they pass throwing tortillas, water, cardigans and fruit to the migrants. There are also churches that provide shelter to the migrants and some wonderful laypeople, driven by their faith and compassion, who look for injured and maimed migrants, carry them back to their homes and tend to them until some sort of mobility is restored to them. Some of the stories will make you cry and definitely restores one's faith in human kindness.

The Book:

This book was an eye-opener for me - whether you are for, or against, amnesty for illegal immigrants, I think this book is required reading. Besides giving the reader a glimpse into a migrant's journey to the US, Ms. Nazario also discusses immigration - its pros and cons. But her main purpose in writing the book is to help us understand the origin of migration - why it happens and who it is happening to, and in that respect I think she is very successful. Reading this book has given me a new understanding on the immigration issue.

This is narrative journalism at its best; Nazario's reporting first appeared as a series of articles that ran in the L.A. Times and won her a Pulitzer Prize; the book expands on those articles. It will soon be followed up by an HBO drama series.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Spring Daze

Thanks to sruthi and squidfingers ,I now have a flower trellis for my background - not too late for spring! :)

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Never has just released their fourth album called ANTARCTICA. It's a storybook album: a full length CD literally coupled with a fully illustrated storybook by Noah Smith! The story is centered around a young, naive, boy named Paul and his journey to find the owner of a large grey object he found behind his home in the country. Antarctica is a plea for everyone young and old to remember the simple things of childhood. The book also serves as a reminder to appreciate the world and the beauty it has to offer. (An illustration from 'Antarctica, courtesy Chapel Hill News)

I am so grateful to the lovely Melissa of "Hello, Melissa" fame for introducing us to the musical talents of "The Never"! My 14-year old in particular is a huge fan and has been since she heard their 3rd album last year. Their latest album,"Antartica", which my delighted daughter has an autographed copy of, (again, courtesy the thoughtful Melissa), is a storybook album which literally includes a storybook (with cool illustrations by band member, Noah Smith) and for a fun listening experience the listener is supposed to turn the pages of the book in time with the music which I think is so darn cool!

About the music: in how many ways can I say wonderful??? It truly, truly is a lovely listening experience! They have been described as "part Beach Boys, part Weezer, part Pink Floyd and part Queen", but I know that's kinda hard to imagine without being able to listen to them, so why don't you take a walk over to "The Never" website and listen to samples of their music on the jukebox?

I love the melodies and I think the guys harmonize beautifully together.I also love the cool intstrumental riffs on many of the songs employing the violin, the mandolin and so on. Some of my favourites on the "Antartica" album are: Summer Time,Summer Girl/Old Man Winter, Antartica, The Sharpest Place, Snow Starts to Fall...heck, I love them all!!!

Will soon attach a picture of my daughter wearing her highly coveted "Antartica" t-shirt! Thanks, Melissa!

Photos from the Antarctica release show on March 26th courtesy "outofideas" at

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Skin Type Solution by Dr. Leslie Baumann

Product Details:

ISBN: 0553804227
Format: Hardcover, 528pp
Pub. Date: February 2006
Publisher: Bantam Books

News Story & Video: Canada AM: Dr. Leslie Baumann, author, 'The Skin Type Solution

I have bought many books in my lifetime, but a book on skincare has never been among them. Guess I naively thought I was going to inherit my mom's skin, but alas, according to dermatologist Dr. Leslie Baumann, facial ageing is only 20% genetic ( always thought it was atleast 40%) - the rest depends on the environment you expose your skin to and the habits you form, as in diet, exercise, substance use and so on. So, armed with that knowledge in mind, I traipsed over to our local bookstore and bought Dr. Baumann's book, "The Skin Type Solution: A Revolutionary Guide To Your Best Skin Ever". I have only had the book a week, but I it has already become a Bible of sorts for me. Let me tell you why I like this book so much:

Firstly, through cutting-edge clinical research Dr. Bauffman has identified 16 skin-types, 12 more than the 4 skin type categories we are used to hearing about. Trying to treat your skin type from a motley choice of four is like buying one of those "one size fits all" sundresses. Sure, it fits, but does it do anything for you? Likewise, a moisturising cream for dry skin does not fit all dry skin types!

Then, with an extensive (64 questions) questionnaire she makes it easy for you to identify YOUR skin type. Formerly, thanks to cosmetic giant, Helena Rubenstein, skin was divided into four categories: normal, combination, dry and sensitive. Bauffman types your skin in four different groups: oily or dry, sensitive or resistant, pigmented or not pigmented and wrinkled or tight. Each person's skin type, therefore, is made up of four components, with 16 possible combinations. For example, my skin is oily, sensitive, non-pigmented and tight, or OSNT. Sounds a little like the Myer-Briggs personality type for your skin,doesn't it? :)

Once that's out of the way, she gives you a detailed description on your skin type - the good, the bad and the ugly - and a list of products (all available at the local drug mart) that would be suitable for use on your skin. The products include cleansers, toners, moisturizers, suncreen, anti-aging (if you need them), foundation and powder. She also gives you a regimen to work with which specifically targets your kind of skin and a list of foods that would be beneficial for your skin type.

As if that isn't enough, she goes on to describe various cosmetic procedures women are opting to use on their skin today - the advantages , the disadvantages, what to expect, how to prepare for the procedure, post-procedural care and so on. Expect to get the lowdown on botox, collagen injections (according to the good doctor, collagen doesn't penetrate the skin) ,anti-aging creams, facials, chemical creams,Retin-A, microdermabrasion, laser hair removal and more. I have learned so much!

I hadn't realized how much about my skin routine was off, or how much money I had wasted on expensive but useless (for my skin type atleast) products until I read this book. This is a review in progress - I will probably come back here and report on how my skin is doing since I switched over to products targeting my specific skin type.

Pssst, guys, this book is for you too!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Two Books on the subject of "Japanese Internment"

In this book the author, Julie Otsuka, deals with an important, although sometimes forgotten, period of American history---the internment of Japanese-American citizens during WWII. The style of writing is minimal and understated,but beautiful and touching in its simplicity. The story concerns a family deployed at a relocation camp in Utah in 1941, but we never get to know their names because they are supposed to represent any and all families affected by the internment. And yet, the author provides such details about their emotional and physical states that one comes to care for them deeply, like one would with close friends.

The author has based the book on the experiences of her family. Her grandfather was arrested the day after Pearl Harbor, while her grandmother, mother and uncle were interned somewhat later. This is her first novel.

History and Background:

Immediately following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the American government began to arrest prominent Japanese-Americans in communities throughout California. Most of those seized in the days following the attack were businessmen and other community leaders, and many had been under surveillance for almost a year. When the United States extended World War II into the Pacific, the scope of the country's security agencies moved beyond businessmen and local officials. Ordinary citizens were perceived as threats to the country, and evacuation notices were delivered to anyone who was 1/16th Japanese and above. They were given no more than one or two days to arrange their affairs before being relocated to internment camps in the West. Eventually, some 120,000 people were forced into the camps, two-thirds of whom were American citizens.

Japanese Internment in Canada and David Suzuki's new book:

Also, this wasn't a uniquely American practice, Canada, too, invoked the iniquitious "War Measures Act" which deprived Japanese living in Canada of rights of citizenship. David Suzuki, famed scientist and environmentalist, in his new autobiography, explains what it was like to be a 6-year old boy in a British Columbian internment camp and unable to speak a word of Japanese (after all, he was third generation Japanese of Canadian-born parents). His family, along with several other Japanese families (22,000 Japanese in all) were moved to Slocan City in Nelson, BC, an abandoned silver mine and were housed in in rotting buildings with glassless windows.

As if it wasn't bad enough being shunted away because of your race, but even inside the camp there was discrimination. Children born to Japanese people who had married Canadians(or non-Japanese) were referred to as "Ainoko" or "half-breeds" and those kids were never welcomed into the Japanese community. Suzuki, being third generation Japanese, and because of his linguistic deficiency, also felt discriminated against in the same way. He says it took him a long time to overcome his mistrust and resentment of Japanese Canadians as a result of the way he was treated in the camp days.

The other wave of discrimination against his family came as the war was ending. About 95% of the Japanese people at the camps decided to demonstrate their anger against Canada by signing up to "repatriate" to Japan. The ones that didn't (and this included Suzuki's immediate family) were castigated as "inu" or "dogs".

Once the first boatloads of people (including Suzuki's grandparents) arrived in Japan, word quickly spread that Japan had been flattened by the bombing and since food and shelter were very hard to find, people were struggling to survive. Hearing this, people who had initially signed up for repatriation now fought deportation and stayed in the camps so long that the Canadian government finally allowed them to stay in Canada and resettle wherever they wanted. This group of people were contemptuously referred to as "repats".

Immediately after and for some years after that, too, Japanese people were never thought of as Canadians - it was always "them" (Japanese) and "us" (Canadians). Suzuki writes, "...For me, the alienation that began with our evacuation from the Coast of British Columbia has remained a fundamental part of who I am, all my life, despite the acquired veneer of adult maturity."

It's true isn't it? Our childhoods do shape who we are and what we become whether we like to admit it or not.

Off topic post: Holi Hai!

I have made several references to the festival of "HOLI" on my blog and I thought it was time to share with you all some pictures (not mine) of how HOLI is celebrated in Bombay (Mumbai, now) where I grew up!

We celebrate HOLI in Canada as well, except we don't use water - it's just a little colour that we pat onto people's cheeks or rub in their hair - it's all very civil here, I might add! :)

I remember, when I was growing up, the week before Holi was a nightmare because people would throw "water balloons" at you as you walked down the road, especially if you were a damsel walking alone. I can't tell you how many times one of those dreaded balloons would meet their mark and I'd run home sobbing to my poor ol' mom who would come out ready to drench my perpetrator with words and angry motions! :))) It was all good fun however.

These pictures have been uploaded from bahl.sonu's collection of pictures at flickr. The Holi Hai set is a collection of 30 photos and well worth viewing.


Monday, April 03, 2006

The Blooker Prize!

To all my blogger friends: you never know but you might have a "blook" on your hands!

From the BBC:

US cook wins blogging book prize:

An American cook's adventures in the kitchen have won the first literary prize for bloggers turned authors.

Julie Powell's tales of French cooking beat the intimate diary of a prostitute and a guide to the UK's best "greasy spoon" cafes to take the Blooker Prize.

The contest was set up for bloggers who have turned their episodic journals into books.

In the last few years, regularly updated web logs, or blogs, have become a major feature of the internet.

There are believed to be more than 60 million blogs in existence.

"Blooks are the new books, a hybrid literary form at the cutting edge of both literature and technology," said Bob Young, founder of self-publishing site Lulu which organised and sponsored the prize.

Community support

The winning blog began life as a online diary of the attempt by Julie Powell to cook the recipes in the 1961 cookbook by Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Her blog built up a cult following. The entries were published as a book last year and has since sold almost 100,000 copies.

"The community aspect of blogging and the interaction with others kept me honest, kept me writing and kept me from sinking into my habitual black hole of self-loathing," said Ms Powell.

A total of 89 entries vied for the Blooker, including two strong contenders from the UK.

One was the notorious Belle De Jour, who blogged about life as a prostitute.

The other was Russell Davies, who turned his affection for greasy spoon cafes into a blog called eggbaconchipsandbeans and a book detailing the 50 best cafes in the UK.

"Those who dismiss blogging as 'mere' confessional writing and complaining about one's day job fail to appreciate just how engrossing those genres can be when handled by a talented writer like Julie Powell," said writer and activist Cory Doctorow, who was on the judging panel.

"The story of how blogging, writing in public, changed Powell's life is both memorable and inspirational."

Saturday, April 01, 2006

When She Was Queen by M G Vassanji

Category: Fiction - Short Stories (single author)
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
Pub Date: October 2005

An indecent proposal from Dar Es Salaam, Elvis making an appearance at a seance conducted by an Indian family, a woman with two husbands, an accidental prophet, a woman who spits on a corpse at his funeral...this ultra-eclectic mix of curiosities makes up MG Vassanji's new book of short stories, "When She Was Queen".

Variously located in Dar es salaam, Kenya, Toronto,India, Pakistan and the American Midwest these twelve, delightfully told short stories by prominent Canadian writer, M G Vassanji, portray characters and emotions of a diasporic community from East Africa caught between home and exile, the ancient and the modern, the spiritual and the religious world.

With each story averaging between 10-20 pages, this is a great book to pick up when time is a luxury. It is also the perfect "bag book" - something to read on the subway or between appointments or while you wait in the car park to pick up your kids from school. This is a particularly good book if you want to know more about the Ismaili ( الإسماعيليوcommunity in Toronto - their history, customs. There is a particularly lovely story called "The Trouble With Tea" which describes a beautiful ritual the Ismaili Muslims use to start the day: no matter the weather, they congregate at the mosque at 4:00am every morning for 20 mins of meditation. An Ismaili friend told me that this is when the veil between heaven and earth is the thinnest,making this one of the most powerful times to have communion with the Universe. She also pointed out a verse from the Turkish poet, Rumi which alludes to this custom:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you; Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want; Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep.

  • A little book with some very powerful stories - try not to miss this one!