Monday, November 26, 2012

Island reads: Playing with Water & The Art of Happiness & Ancient Home Tales

An Island Read from the Philippines: Playing with Water

I’m posting from a Spanish island this week: Lanzarote, which is one of the southernmost tips of Europe, not far from the Eastern Sahara. Following the island mood, I browsed my bookshelf at home, and came across a book that waits there since ages: James Hamilton-Paterson’s memoir: “Alone on a Philippine Island: Playing With Water”. It’s a wonderful book, the only problem with it is that I had it in German translation, which makes Hamilton’s writing voice sound edgy, so I ordered the original version second-hand, and received a copy that seems to be the first edition in paperback, dating back to 1988. The book is indeed a timeless read – Hamilton has been journalist in SE-Asia, and every year, for a full third of the year, he lives alone on the Philippine island Tiwari: “In Playing with Water he explains why. With a poet’s insight and skill he examines our experience of the relationship between external and internal realities.”

It’s a perfect book to read on an island. I already quoted a bit from it yesterday, from the time of his arrival on Tiwarit in the post below. One of the key themes of it is water – the ocean and the way the water surrounding an island and its reefs is part of the island, too, and how the life down there has a close connection to ancient times, when all that existed were algae, and later corals. When looking for a fresh water source, Hamilton learns about the Philippine believe in elementary spirits: nonos: “those associated with water as in wells, springs and damp places are reckoned the fiercest.” It’s a different world with different rules, he understands, and in his book, he shares this world with the readers.

An Island Read from the Mountains: The Art of Happiness

If I only could have taken one book to this island, it most probably would have been “The Art of Happiness” – a book that is written by Howard C. Cutler, a western psychologist who had the chance to be invited to a series of conversations with the Dalai Lama, who offered advice and practical wisdom. The result of this encounter between the West and East is this book. Like the other book, it isn’t news – it’s from 1998. But it is timeless. I remember exactly where I saw it first: in a mountain hostel in the North of Vietnam. Another traveler had it with her, and gave it for me for the time there – and in my mind, it’s connected to the mountains, to the walks there, along rice fields with a view to mountain peeks, that lead to talks about journeys, places, chance, goals, life.

Ancient Home Tales: Eduard Mörike
The third book I am reading is a chance find: I was looking for some island-related classic e-books to take along and dip into, starting with Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which then lead to Homer’s Odyssey. (Will open both this week). After some more clicks and searching, I arrived at a classic read from the region I live in, written by the German author and poet Eduard Mörike, who picked up fables and tales from that region and interweaved them to a larger narrative of a young shoemaker apprentice who decides to walk into the world to find his luck there. On the evening before leaving, he lights a candle, and from it, a “Hutzelmann” (a sort of dwarf) appears and hands him 2 pairs of good walking shoes: one for himself, and one to leave as a giving for someone else. What the Hutzelmann doesn’t tell: the shoes are special, and will take him towards luck if he follows their inner subtle pointing.

A way to read this, of course, is that we have the happiness under our footsoles, if we only could listen. But back to the tale: while on his way, the apprentice arrives ata blue well, the “Blautopf”-“Bluepot” – which is home to a female water spirit, the “Lau”. (from Blau/Blue). The fancy thing is that a) I’ve been to that very Blautopf this year in March. And b) that despite the completely different setting and time (Mörike wrote in 1850, and refers to a time “500 years” ago), to come across this parallel of believes in those very different books, reaching to those 2 different worlds.

Together, those island reads also are a prelude for the world reading challenge 2013, here’s more about it, if this sounds interesting to you, you’re very welcome to join:

Reading Challenge 2013

7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books (Link)
The idea of this reading challenge is to explore the world by books from different continents and countries, and by visiting various world lists while planning the reads, to encounter the one or other unknown angle and fact about our world.

Previous reading blog entries are collected here: bookshelf: currently  reading...


Jennifer Hartling said...

The Art of Happiness sounds like a very interesting read :) I'll have to look for that one!

Have a great week of reading!

Dorothee said...

hi Jennifer! The Art of Happiness is fascinating to read, thought-provoing and practical at the same time.

Have a great reading week, too - the web is very slow here, so i unfortunately don't have much chance to browse your and other book blogs this week.