Sunday, June 29, 2008

Don't Read If You're Still Reading (or want to read) the Final Harry Potter Book!

Well, it's finally over. One of the saddest and strangest days of my life has finally arrived because today, on a dreary, cold Sunday afternoon, I finally finished reading the final Harry Potter book. I blame university for everything; one of the subjects I was doing in English Literature had as required reading the first Harry Potter book, 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'. Once I read that, I had to read the rest of them.

This is not going to be a review of the book; just a review of my thoughts on having completed it. In general, it was - what can I say - a simply fantastic read. J. K. Rowling is an ecstatic writer and can take her reader on a breathtaking rollercoaster ride of emotions. She is witty, funny, deep, insightful and extremely intelligent. Half the words I've ever looked up in my Oxford Minidictionary I first read in the Harry Potter books (and I've had the dictionary for 15 years, there!).

The main problem I had while reading this last book ('Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows') is that the information from all the previous books kind of snowballed and quite a bit of foreknowledge was assumed, yet I was too lazy to go back and read the previous books to completely understand the finer points of the plot; maybe I just didn't want to slacken my pace. The energy you get and the lift, the absolute adrenaline rush of reading rapidly towards the dénouement of a great novel is like nothing else; your senses are sharpened and your whole brain hangs on every line, every new page... it's elemental. I always say the best kind of book is an invisible one; because it's only when everything else disappears from around you that you really know you're holding a powerful narrative.

And Rowling has achieved such a narrative. And now I know for sure why (though I suspected it several books ago). She, like C. S. Lewis, has used the concept of the Saviour and the Chosen One, a Messiah or sacrificial figure, to hold together the story and maintain its attraction. Not that I disagree with this; it's kind of what I was hoping for. I'm sure many of us out there were aching to read in the final chapters, where everything is explained, that Harry is, actually, invincible and cannot be killed by his arch-enemy, Voldemort. That it wasn't an accident that he survived the first killing curse as an infant in the cot. That he is, actually, chosen. That he can conquer death. This is what makes him such a hero and an idol to the younger generation.

The truth is we all want to believe in such things. We need a rallying point, a central figure that we can all believe in, trust in, adore and give our service to. Harry Potter is that; a mythological superman who possesses the keys to eternity. Not because we believe that he won't ever die, because he is obviously mortal in the story and will age as we do. But because the story makes out that, reasonable circumstances assumed, his life will always be spared, as though he is covered by some protective mantle that ordinary mortals lack. Perhaps this is what attracts so many people to these books (you know what I mean, you see them on the train when you go to work). The kids love the magic and the spells; but the adults love it for a totally different reason. They love what it implies, the sense of the extraordinary that it revolves around. The belief that the universe can decide to focus its energies upon ONE individual, not many. This is the yearning of our modern society: the 'me' factor. And Harry Potter strikes that chord masterfully.

Apart from storyline, the characters in the books are simply mind-bogglingly amazing. Not just the variety of characters and the imagination gone into creating them but the sheer believability of some of them is staggering, so that most of us who have followed the story on through the whole 7 books have been left with a very sad feeling at leaving them. On the one hand, we rejoice that the series ended so well and fittingly, but on the other, some part of us hopes we have not seen the last of dear Ron, Harry and Hermione. They are real in every sense except actual flesh and blood.

What do you think? Have you read any of the books? All of them? Do you ever intend to? Do you just not understand the whole fuss? I welcome your input. I am not, I would say, a real fanatical fan of the literature, more a temporarily interested reader. Every book I've read of the series I've always bought at least a year after it came out; I'm not one of those who camped outside Borders waiting for the doors to open at 9.01am so I could rush in and buy my copy as soon as it came out. But in part, the controversy surrounding the books made me determined to read them all for myself so that I could decide for myself what I thought of them. I think it's important to have one's own reasons for one's beliefs and you can't praise or criticise something on hearsay, if you respect yourself. I can now say, as an educated graduate (as well as a Christian), that I approve. Maybe not wholeheartedly with everything in the books (because there are some terrifying moments I wouldn't read to my children or dwell on before bed), but overall, I agree with the basic message Rowling has put across. This is the 21st Century and we can't expect authors to write like Enid Blyton or Hans Christian Anderson anymore. We are living in different times and our literature will reflect that. But even in these difficult times we have need of a strong message. More than anything, I think the Potter story is one of sacrifice and love. I don't think everyone needs to see that to appreciate the books but I saw it and it is enough for me. I am satisfied.

*Sniff sniff* It's really over. No more books about the boy wizard. My heartfelt hugs to all the diehard Potter fans out there who are missing an arm; it will grow back, don't worry. It will just take time! :)

Peace to all the bloggers/readers.

P.S. And yeah, I forgot, Harry Potter does kick Voldemort's butt in the end - of course! ;-)

Friday, June 27, 2008

La Mia Passione Eterna

I can't go any longer without confessing this; I think I've done a wow job keeping it to myself this long in fact... But I have an enduring passion that will just not go away. I'm not even sure if it's a passion - more like an obsession. The fact that I just now typed the word 'obsession' as 'exception' also indicates that this passion/obsession has also grown to such a degree that it is now seriously threatening my mental capacity. In other words, I can't think straight anymore. The thing is, since the moment it first touched my lips, surprising, delighting and transforming me forever, I have loved chocolate. I can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't eating it. The only two times I remember being without it (Orthodox Easter holy week aside), were last autumn and 10 years ago, both times for 3-month detox periods - and I hated it. So I've decided to accept this fatal flaw in my character, rather like I accept that I am a cat, not a bird person, and that no matter what time I get up in the morning I will always stay up late.

Ah mysterious, exotic, powerful, sexy CHOCOLATE! No matter what you're eating, drinking or smearing over your body, chocolate always adds that something 'extra' to the mix. It turns boring biscuits into choc-chip cookies, boring housewives into sex cookies and rebellious children into PUTTY. If I had my way, there would be an International Chocolate Day, a chocolaterie in every town and a chocolate dessert after every restaurant meal. Instead of attaching cards to gifts, I would make it proper etiquette to strap on a box of Ferrero Rocher instead. Instead of champagne (or, actually, as well as champagne) at the start of fancy parties... you guessed it, chocolate pralines; passed around by the trayful. Even wedding vows would begin, "I do solemnly eclair..."

I wish I had a suitably delicious chocolate recipe to add right here but unfortunately I'm an expert at the eating, not the making. However, if you've ever tried mixing mascarpone cream with Nutella, throwing in ground hazelnuts and eating with vanilla ice-cream, you would be trying one of my specialties. If poor, you could try mixing MILO powder with milk to make a thick paste, then mix in ground wallnuts and refrigerate. That makes something you could suck and munch on for hours. And if you're after something more refined, you have to try the dark chocolate Callebaut makes. Smooth and earthy and probably full of endorphins and aphrodisiac properties (I'm guessing, because unfortunately I have no man at the moment that I can jump on after eating it to really put its chemical prowess to the test).

I don't need to tell anyone I'm pathetic when it comes to recipes. It's evident! I just like to eat the stuff. And to be honest, whenever I've got my hands on a nice chunk of choc, passion and lust take over so intensely that it disappears before I've had time to think up some new ways to serve it. So if anyone reading this has the self-control and patience that I lack and has some nice chocky recipes you'd like to share, I promise I won't bite until I've given what you suggest a try. Original ideas are welcomed. I invite you to gain fame by plastering your chocolate knowledge and experience across the Blogosphere; which, if I had my way, would be the Chocosphere.

I'm so bloody predictable.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sex, Sex and More Sex!

WELL! Here I am back in Melbourne. Holiday over. Winter well and truly decided to make me aware of her chilly presence. I say 'her' because I can more easily picture winter as a female (Ice Queen, White Witch and so forth) than a male (because somehow, even if a man seems cold, it only - at least for me - seems to make him more damn attractive - Mr Darcy from Pride & Prejudice a notable case in point).

But perhaps I should also write holiday as 'holiday' here. The reason, as the intuitive among you have probably already figured out, is that if it was a holiday without the apostrophes, if it was a proper, apostropheless holiday, then by now you should have seen, on hitting TheAppleDrawer-dot-com, enviously gorgeous pictures of amazing Greek islands or majestic ancient buildings with scary big columns and huge pieces of marble scattered all around them; each barrage of photographs punctuating a different stage in this journey I - for reasons I will never clearly understand but that will never fail to prove a vital life lesson to me or others - naively took ... with my parents.

Let me start with this word of advice (especially to all you 'good girls and boys' out there, cos you're the ones most at risk): Are you listening? Okay. Are you sure? Right. Here is the advice: Don't travel with your parents if you want to have an apostropheless holiday.

I don't think I need to say any more. Sooner or later the young adult grows up. It's not when you get your licence, when you sleep with someone for the first time or even when you have your first baby that you grow up. It's not about the physical part of your life at all. It's the point at which you say to yourself, "From now on, I choose to be held responsible for my own decisions, actions and lifestyle." It's the moment at which you decide to stop trying to live the life that was cut out for you by others and start cutting out your own life in the shape that you want it to have. It's having the guts to go after your dream when everything in your past is screaming at you that it's nothing but a stupid fantasy. It's having the chutzpah to try on a dress that looks doubtful on the rack because you believe it will look good on you. It's drawing a picture and showing it to the world and knowing that the world could think it incongruous or ugly and drawing it nonetheless. It's doing something for no great reason at all except.... that you thought to do it. It's having the confidence to do something because you want to do it. It's the moment at which you start valuing yourself. It's the moment at which you become a person. You develop a spine. Your inside becomes something different to your outside, a place where others can afterwards find shelter. Your spiritual umbilical cord to your parents is cut and you become capable of forming and maintaining your own family, whether through marriage or great friendship groups.

Unfortunately it took a bad trip away for me to go through this process. Until now, I hadn't realised how attached to my parents I'd been, how hungry for their approval. How much I had constantly, again and again, put my dreams and hopes on the shelf just to win imaginary stars from their school of rational, wise, responsible decision-making. I realised it because the trip home was a small death. It wasn't so much that I wanted to live in Greece. It was that I was given a chance to make it on my own and I didn't take it.

Well - I could dwell on such heavy thoughts on this blog or I could remember the positives. Positives such as the amazingly friendly people I encountered and the feeling that everything and everyone is connected to each other and the land. Positives like shopping. Somehow, every time I've been in Greece, though short on money, I've always found theee perfect thing just when I needed it. It seems to be a Providential compensation for the fact that you have 4 times less there than in Spoil-Me-Rotten, 5-Of-Everything, 2-Showers-a-Day, Convenience-Oozing, Tim Tam-munching Australia. Maybe it's because you have less that what you do have is such a treasure. But there are also those times when you can't help but feel blessed with unnatural good luck. For example, in Australia, I can never seem to find shoes I like. Athens: I walked into a shoe shop and immediately found a pair of blingy sandals that were perfect for me, in looks and comfort. I'm talking Cinderella Glass Slipper level of comfort. As in I was made for those sandals and nobody else could look as good in them as me. That scary. Just for some background, I look at the activity of buying shoes kind of like studying for a really boring and difficult university exam: I hate it. And especially strappy, open, flimsy numbers.... not me! So to buy a pair of summery, glittery, sexy, hardly-there sandals in downtown Athens within 10 minutes of walking hesitantly into a store full of summery, glittery, sexy, hardly-there shoes that make my ingrown toenails twinge at the mere sight of them... it gave me hope, dear reader. In modern-day terms, I would say it's better than sex. Because I could realistically expect a good pair of shoes to be with me longer than a man in this day and age.

And that brings me to my main topic. Sex. Yes, it was inevitable that, as a 20-something female, unhitched, I would go to see the Sex and the City movie. I went tonight with my best girlfriend who is the ultimate chick-flick companion (as all best girlfriends are). I had always thought the show Sex and the City beyond me, culturally. Too New York. Too fast. Too much sex. But I was surprised to find myself tearing up at certain points in the movie and I don't tear up easily. It hit a chord. The fact is that the film touched on a major question I've been asking the universe for the past few years, as couples and friends have drifted in and out of my life. What is it that makes a man ask a woman to marry him?

I mean, I think of many young married couples I know. People who married because of preference, not parental coercion or circumstances or what we call in Greek proxenió. I think of these people who in many ways remind me of myself and the whole fact of these people being in a committed relationship fascinates me. The idea of the man being at work and knowing that he will be coming home to his wife, who may also be working, and they will both be together and be primarily with each other in the evening, is strange to me. The nature of the marital relationship is strange to me. What is it that makes two people say forever? Is it that they love each other so much that they can't bear to be away from each other for more than 12 hours at a time, or is it that they've never found a better person to be with and have settled for a person who they at least know will care about them when the rest of the world tells them it couldn't give a rat's?

As this thought whirrs the wheels of my mind, another thought butts in equally as forcefully from time to time. Why aren't I, at 29, married? Most of the people I know got hitched at 28 or younger. The rest are mostly in committed relationships, or at least long-term ones. A smattering is drifting about looking for a loving relationship. Now here's the thing: I used to always assume I wasn't married or in a long-term relationship because I was ugly. It had been drummed into me at school. I was awkward, I was ugly, I did not look like the other girls, I would never fit in and bla bla bla. So I believed that was why I hadn't found anybody yet. But that theory was thrown out a while ago when, in the same week, 2 men, salespeople I was chatting to in the city, asked me why I didn't have a boyfriend. And actually wanted to know the answer, as if there was an explanation there that they couldn't access just by looking at me. So I decided the problem couldn't be physical. Apparently Cleopatra of Egypt was an unattractive woman physically. Yet she twitched and powerful, handsome men came running.

So it's not the looks that get the man. What is it then? I happen to know women who can get a boyfriend as easily as most of us can get take-away pizza. I have never known them to be out of a relationship. And long relationships too. Sometimes with marriage included. All the time, the men with them seem blissfully and contentedly happy. These women, when I think about it, have always been the ones who have never ever said anything to me to hurt or offend me. They don't talk much and rarely insist on having things their own way. In fact, they seem to live to please others. Yet they drift from one relationship to another, endlessly searching. I also know other women who have been the opposite: demanding, loud, individualistic, take-me-or-leave-me types... and they have found one man and stayed with that one man; the only man, perhaps, who has been able to live with them and accept them for who they are.

One of my favourite pastimes is to ask how older generation women met and fell in love with their husbands. I'm getting the feeling that the most important element of their stories is the one they leave out. The element that made them commit. I'm starting to think it has a little something to do with danger. Strife. Difficulty. Fighting. Struggle. Because for some weird reason, I think the only thing that could make me want to commit to somebody for life and tie that knot is something that would test me and that other person to such an extent that to live our life afterwards without each other would be meaningless.

I wish I could go on but my brain is starting to fog up. I will leave with this small conviction. After watching Sarah Jessica Parker in all her vital life force finery tonight, I am sure there is love out there. I mean miracle love. The kind of love that makes a man stay with the same woman for 5 years claiming he's not interested in marriage, but makes him walk down the aisle 6 months after their break-up to marry a woman he's virtually just met. The miraculous force that makes two people notice each other across a room and know that, marriage or not, their futures will be somehow entwined. I believe in this. I know this force is divine. The love part is divine; everything else revolving around this - marriage, de facto, make-up-break-up circles - is all man-made. It's all decorations. It's only the love part that's real. And it seems to me that whenever people put the love part first, everything else just falls into place.