About books that take space in your heart
Most of the time, I find social media extremely useful. I've connected with some people that have a fantastic sense of humor (on Facebook), people who are on point with what is happening in the world (Twitter), and people who are amazing photographers (Instagram). I get my daily dose of what I need - if I want to see what's happening in Romania, I read a couple of journalists whom I trust. For jokes and music, I have the other group, for a daydreaming moment, I search the name of a few people. "What I need, baby, they got it!" (adapted song lyrics, common...you know this one.)
But three weeks ago something happened: I got bored reading books. I didn't know what to think of it. Were those books that bad? Or does my boredom comes from searching for rapid information, delivered fresh? When I found myself checking my phone more often than I wanted, I got a tad scared. I was reading a couple of books at the same time: one in the morning, the other on the metro, and the third one for when I had more energy. But none of these books could fulfill my need: I wanted something light, for summer, but substantial and with introspection.
After complaining to a friend about my dilemma, I left her place and headed to an English book shop and picked "High Fidelity" by Nick Hornby. It was accidental - I went there to buy an architecture book, but couldn't find anything about urban planning, so I bought two art books that (in my mind) justified buying the third one.
Is "High Fidelity" one of "20 books you need to read before you're 40"? Nope. Absolutely no. We can talk about the writing style and how the short sentences grab the attention of the reader to some detail...but being stuck in Rob's head for the duration of an entire novel was simply frustrating.
I get that he was supposed to be immature and obnoxious, but I also had a feeling that his antics are supposed to make him somehow charming and relatable. But that's where the author lost me - there were some moments when Rob acts like he wants to be a better person, but it's not convincing enough. Have you ever said, “I can’t adult today”? Well, Rob tends to live by this philosophy every day by choice. And in the end, to me, Rob is not a loveable jerk, he is just a mediocre, mid 30s white man with a massive sense of entitlement. There's no sympathy for the devil from my side. "Hurr, hurr, hurr," will a music nerd say, "you don't understand that this book is also about music and Hornby does not depict little saints, or incorrigible loafers, but just...men...Hurrr, hurrr...I actually loved a Laura and..." Please stop right there so I don't roll my eyes until I teleport to another dimension.
I get that Hornby likes creating characters that seem like real people, and real people aren't all nice, but I don't see any positive or any lesson in it. Books are not just objects - but also rhetorical actions in which authors try to captivate their readers. I smiled a couple of times - maybe 7? - but when it comes to new ideas and new ways of thinking, engaging and sharpening our ethical values, Hornby has terribly lowered the level of what humanity means. The book is an example of bad people who end up having bad relationships with other people. And, in the end, why would one want to read about that? *Sighs dramatically*
And so, I was back on Facebook, amusing myself with shorts reads. And then back on Twitter. (Oh, how I hate Facebook's new design! Don't you?) And not so much Instagram these days, because I needed to read, no to look at pictures. I was in the metro one morning, hiding from people behind my mask and sunglasses, when I lost my internet connection. Like in this pic. Ha ha, get it? Kein Netz in der U-Bahn.= No network in the subway. Ha ha. But Netz is also used for spider web, so that's the joke - a play on words. See how good my German is? Yes, I can call myself a native speaker now, thank you for noticing. Anywho, I stay far-far-far away from anyone on the train (ok, there's not a lot of room to distance yourself from others, but you get my point: as far-far-far away as possible.) I took out my Kindle and opened a book I downloaded months ago: The Price of Paradise by Susana López Rubio. The first 5 pages seemed delightful, but I didn't want to get my hopes high.
There's something you should know about me: I fall in love with words - or more precisely, the little world they depict as being real. I fall in love and after I finish a good book, I move around like a drunken turkey hen and don't know how to be.
And keeping that in mind, and not enjoying my last books, I really didn't want to get my hopes high. I started reading with one thought: "this is just a metro book, this is just a metro book, ooh, that's cute, but this is just a metro book." Yet one thing let to another, and I tried to find more time to read during my days. (Last five weeks were very demanding: I was just busy and tired, tired and busy.) And so, I read a few pages before going to sleep, I read before lunch, I read waiting for my appointment (omg, some Germans don't understand how time works or how apologizing for their delays means they actually understand what respect is). Every chapter of this book transported me to another world: it was Patricio's witty responses, it was Gloria's curiosity, it was the historical context that was presented in another way - “But as soon as he came through the door, it was clear Che was no ordinary man. He looked exactly like the hundreds of photographs that had appeared in the newspapers: he was dressed in a military uniform with a cigar in his mouth. His long hair and beard gave him a wild and leonine look. What was most impressive about him was his gaze. There was a ferocity and an energy in his eyes that exceeded his mere presence. The guy was boiling inside.” (Yes, it's Che Guevara in Havana.)
This is a book about love and friendship and hard times; well... about life...and I learned that "women who don’t raise their voices when men behave badly are as bad as they are." The storytelling is graceful, but it's not a sappy, romance novel. It has some moments that seem unordinary, considering Cesar's influence, but people - in the end - have emotions and are sometimes guided by feelings. It was a wonderful read, and when the same events were described from different perspectives, I somehow expected to get bored. I didn't. The more I read, the more I wanted to be next to those three marvelous friends. The narrative was flowing so naturally that I saw myself dancing in Havana - which is funny, because I've never been there and the few pictures I saw on the internet can't capture everything (or they can't capture my feelings, ha!). Towards the end of the book I cried, and after the last page was turned, I felt empty. Empty in the sense of "Saudade". (If you're following me on Instagram, that's what my previous post is about.) There's something inexplicable - this state of mind during and after reading the book - and coming back to my Berlin reality was quite a shock.
Ok, you'll say - at the beginning of this text I mentioned how much I use social media - why don't I contact the writer? It's so easy to find someone (online) these days, and send them a short - or a loooooong message. I will. But this is bigger than that. The truth is, I've got a thing for Latin America.
I started missing America shortly after I turned 30. Listen, I was never a big traveler, and I don't need to have "20 countries visited until..whatever". I learned about the history of art and the history of architecture in university. I know how the wonders of the world look like, I stared at Viollet-le-Duc's models, I have some knowledge about Asian culture. But I don't need to travel to Japan. I don't need to jump on a plane to Beijing, to see Forbidden City. I don't need to see Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater as I don't need to visit Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. For me, architecture and art mean something else. Now, wait! I am not trying to be hip or anything, it's not about me thinking I'm cooler than anyone else if I don't follow trends. I just have a different approach. I still want to go to Paris to see Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa in an October afternoon, though. Don't try to make sense of it, there's no logic - I am just a weird person, and many times I don't even understand my thoughts. (I like to imagine that this has something to do with speaking three languages at the same time, but, if I am being honest, I can't blame it on that.)
It was a Saturday afternoon at a busy coffee shop when I confessed to a friend that I want to quit my job and go travel. I was raising my cup of tea, then put it back on the table, then raising it again, without taking any sips, but explaining that I have returned from Vienna to Timisoara, to find out I took five steps backward. "Something is not right, and I am not all right." I was back in a country where I knew everything, where I could speak the language and do my job, yet, I felt like I no longer belonged. I told her I want to move to Portugal, learn to surf, and live from one month to another. I wanted to move to the western part of Europe, not to run away, but to find out who I am. To learn a new language and rediscover my past. (This sentence doesn't have to make sense to you - but it does to me.) Being the organizer that I am, and having this need for stability, I couldn't gather the courage to make the move. And so I found another job, and then another job. And yes, I fell in love with Portugal, on the first day of my arrival - but after ten days spent there, I knew it will remain just a holiday destination for me. Yet, this year, blindly following the same routine, I accidentally found a path that will work better.
Books open up new worlds - and especially during the pandemic - this is something extraordinary. I read Susana's book and felt time slowing down. And I know that I haven't missed my train. I was just a tad late for it. (But hey, I am in Germany, where people are surprised when DB keeps its schedule! Ha ha, see how funny I am?!? Hilarious, I'm telling you! Just read my other posts. And while you read, I will try to come up with a plan.) But for now, you need to know this: there's a tranquil anxiety that surrounds my life at this moment. Reading this book resurfaced an old feeling, and then a week of Facebook search gave me a glance into the future. There's a tranquility knowing that someone is waiting for you on the other side of the world, and an anxiety because things might not work out. But I sure hope they will.
I don't know how my life will look like in the following years, and I don't know if Berlin will be my home. I realized that no matter how much I try to organize my future steps, it's not entirely up to me. I left my heart in Latin America, and somewhere in the shadows, listening to Spanish music, my big-big-big love waits for me to say "¡HOLA!" 😊