reading 4 – mother reading to child

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I said I would post something today (Fri). Very sorry I didn’t get down to this. Have been under the weather the last 3 days. Also, preparations for my trip to Africa and the rush of a fiction manuscript that someone is waiting to see and receive. So it’s all been rather nerve-racking. But I’m better already should have a couple of good posts up this weekend.

Diary for an Impending Kilimanjaro Climb

This was a diary I started on October 11 but there weren’t any other posts. I have called everyone concerned, summoned my crew, invited 2 guests to join me on the climb and I will be posting regular updates.

I’m going to make another Kilimanjaro climb before Christmas. Friends expected my return to Africa only in January. Tomorrow, I shall telephone everyone and surprise them. Only Victor, my mountain guide knows and he has promised to draw up a plan that includes the usual painful diet. It would mean surviving on an unusual amount of carbohydrates, fruit juices, glucose, proteins and water before and during the climb. I’d say painful because it’s extremely hard to conjure up any kind of appetite while I’m mountaineering. The last time, Victor had to force me to eat. The battle stays mostly with having to combat a tough bout of altitude sickness.
Hopefully, this time, I shall carry with me the tenacity in which to reach the snow-capped Uhuru Peak without mishap. If so, and amid the total exhaustion afterwards, what a glorious present for Christmas I shall give myself. And let none of the usual chaotic drama among my beloved Tanzanians that always accompany an adventure in East Africa, go missing.
Chaos is turned into an art form and the utterly beautiful Serengeti Plains, an ethereal paradise for both man and beast. Yet, the half-naked Masai who stroll with dour resignation in the icy air, trailing affectionately behind their skinny cattle, would consider themselves to be ordinary folk.
The mountain pulls at my heart strings and makes me cry with affectionate longing. I have embraced it in a newfound attachment. I want to trek up the beautiful waterfalls, absorb once more the abundant wildlife and make proper friends with the close-knit community comprising the mountain rangers and the Chagra tribe in Uru Village. I must find a way to help them. Already, I feel they are my people in spirit.
Such is the intensity of the region’s beckoning and the exhilaration of the memory that my steps have turned without hesitation towards the vast plains that shroud and enfold it. When I am in Tanzania I long for Dublin and when I am in Dublin, I long for Tanzania. Such too, is the futile if not wry comedy of my life’s own exploits.

Encounters

At Waterstone’s on Dawson Street, I performed the cardinal sin of being seduced by a sign that said Discover the Old in Winter. Faced with the classics & b/w illustrations, I spied Dickens & a host of fairy tales wear immortality in the spirit of their plots & characters. Where once they mirrored a girlish delight, my evergreen tales now readied themselves for the long low summer of my life, willing nostalgia to hurry before the last sunset. As they wished for me only a flicker of remembrance, I saw it was I who had grown old, the gold  seeped off my frail, stale skin and not at all, my beloved fairy tales.
Credit: Picture courtesy of Download-Free-Pictures.

A Wonderland Find

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One Saturday afternoon, not too long ago, I visited a popular bookstall in Temple Bar here in Dublin.

I was instantly drawn to a fat ancient storybook and in my eyes, an early version of Alice in Wonderland. Propped up in a corner on the tiny shelf, it clearly pleaded attention.

The cheerful cover featured an animated discussion that appeared to be caught forever in mid-air. The moles with their showy shawls and shirts, the panicky White Rabbit, the shocked Mouse and a fashionable bird all stunned in their vibrant show of gaiety…  Anticipating an eager desire for refreshments, a watering-can waited, all ears.  Meanwhile, the back of the book displayed a splendid woodland scene.

These covers were nearly torn off the edge and ready to be dislodged from the spine at the next rough touch. Yet to me, the dangerous fragility was nothing that a roll of cellophane tape couldn’t work its magic on. The bookseller explained that the children’s book belonged to an elderly gentleman who had recently passed on. His family subsequently made the difficult decision to part with his childhood collection.

I opened carefully to the first blank page. Inside was pasted an elaborately patterned inscription with a line in tiny lettering that said Printed in Great Britain. It displayed a crimson typeface with the words Presented to. Someone had written very neatly in black ink – and this foiled only by a slight smudge – The Chilson Council School…. for Robb Wm. Smith for Proficiency in Geography from Mr. Wallace 1936.

This storybook had been handed to I could only assume, a delighted young boy.

How faithfully preserved it looked. The pages were naturally worn out with time but that was the book’s only crime. It wasn’t dog-eared in the least but instead signalled the impression that the past owner had perused his text very carefully and thoughtfully fingered the pages as he turned each one over. Not too, just for days and months but for years and years.

Inside were humorous b/w illustrations complete with the odd splash of colour. It looked like Robb had safeguarded his prized book for all his life. And then finally, it was time to let go.

I bought it, felt that I must and the joy was whole, almost as one would feel at the promise of a sacred redemption. I was thrilled and sad at the same time. That was how powerful; the hidden tale locked inside the pages of a visible one. Still, I turned the silent custodian and felt obliged to protect yet another Alice in Wonderland storybook almost as if a strangers legacy had been eagerly if not accidentally, befitted to me.

I considered this strange message of timelessness to be priceless. A friend in Toronto said, she would continue to preserve it on Robb’s behalf, if I ever had to let it go.

Today, I thought once more about the book’s owner and this with a diligent pensive air. I pulled the book off the shelf and ran my hands once again over the beloved pages as if it would bring the distant past closer for just a minute. What an excellent time of introspection. What a beautiful form of stillness!

I wondered if Robb’s excellence in Geography had later led him to a life of high adventure or perhaps a caring appreciation of foreign places and cultural treasures. Was he ever happy? Did he retain a notion for dreams and ideals in later life? The reality is that I will never know unless someday, the bookseller – and that too, if I see him again – willingly relates details of the family left behind.

Yet, how a ‘seasoned’ elegant object haunts a reader with secrets. To me, this mattered not even as the book crossed the ocean to reach another library in a different time and place…. a different century and age. They say a pair of eyes masquerades windows to lodge in the heart of an unsuspecting soul but a book just like this one, may mirror a finer trick.