Waiting for summer

Dark grey clouds

Swallowed up the sun

In their eternal mischief

Drops began to fall.

I lay on the grass

And closed my eyes,

I lay in the rain

And dreamt of summer.

The scorching summers of my youth

The lingering scent of mangoes

The blue skies and bright clouds

And entoptic white dots.

Vienna, a bookgasm and cold train sandwiches

I was in Vienna yesterday for the arduous task of picking up my renewed passport. When I say arduous, I mean the ass-numbing boredom of spending five hours aboard a train. That much inactivity is enough to drive anyone up the walls. It is especially difficult for me because I have borderline ADHD (and functional dyslexia, if I were in Rick Riordan Universe, I’d probably be a demi-God). I walked about a little, went and stood near the door for some time, walked to the restaurant car and got a coffee. But there is only so much you can do when you are trapped in an almost empty carriage of metal and glass with a few other people, all engrossed in their phones.

When I reached the consulate, I found out that I was early by an hour and a half. They were still out for lunch. So I was in the centre of Vienna, where winter has briefly (I hope) returned to, with at least one and a half hours to kill. Then it occurred to me, I was in the centre of Vienna with one and a half hours to kill. It was freezing, of course, but what is a little cold when you are in one of the greatest cities in the world ?

I had been to Vienna many times, so there was nothing touristy left to do. I pretty much know it, not quite like the back of my hand, but maybe like the back of my, well, front. The week before, I had come across an article about places to visit in Vienna for a bibliophile on a website called Culture Trip. One of them (and the one that caught my eye ) was a bookstore called Shakespeare and Company booksellers. I thought it might be a branch of another amazing English bookstore I once visited in Prague, called Shakespeare and Sons bookstore (it isn’t). In Innsbruck, where I live, English books are hard to come by. Even in the biggest bookstores, English sections are sparse and about half the size of Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs. So out comes my phone, and thanks to Google maps, I now knew how to get there.

It wasn’t much of a walk from Wiener Staatsoper or Vienna State Opera house, near where the Embassy was, only about 1.5 kilometres. I walked through milling crowds of mostly tourists down a busy shopping thoroughfare, got lost twice but finally got there. The bookstore is in a small, almost Invisible alleyway called Sterngasse (literally, starry street). The bookstore sign was a rather cute painting of Shakespeare and the door said, “Come on in, we are open”.

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I walk in, and I’m completely taken in by surprise. It is unbearably quaint with books stacked from floor to ceiling, exactly as I had imagined Mr.Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore, with actual creaking floorboards. It truly was a book lover’s dream come true. There is one main hall that you walk into, with shiny new books of various genres, looking upon you from all around. There are old, retro type frames on the wall with photos and rough paintings. Straight ahead is an alcove of sorts with a comfortable looking chair and again, books all around, some waiting to be sorted into the shelves. Then there is an inner sanctum with mainly children’s and young adult books. There are chairs all over, slightly haggardly placed, for customers to sit and read to their heart’s content. I wish I had more time, or I would definitely have taken advantage of that. From what I could see, it is run by three wonderful women (who were quite surprised when I actually asked permission to take pictures, a sad commentary on what we consider polite these days). There was only one other customer when I walked in, hopefully that was only an after lunch lull.

I don’t know if they stock second-hand books, none that I could see. So the books are a little pricey, or maybe they just appear pricey to me because I’ve been cheating on actual books with e-books lately. Needless to say, I will be visiting this store again. And now I know where exactly to take my similarly-minded friends  when they come to visit Vienna 😉

That was it for the soul yesterday. Afterwards I went back to the Embassy to collect my passport and trudged back to the train station for another unending train ride back home. The only silver lining in the journey for me was the food. It wasn’t exactly fine dining, and was rather simple, but I absolutely love the bacon and egg sandwich served aboard ÖBB trains. I think it was the fourth or fifth consecutive train ride on which I’ve ordered it. Plus it is cold (I am a strange creature who likes cold sandwiches), so, win-win !

When I saw you first

My heart beat wildly,

I whispered to it gently,

Patience, dear heart !

You walked in,

All tall and proud,

In your green uniform,

Stars agleam on your shoulder.

Your shy smile,

Your hidden heart,

Your lovely letters,

They became my life.

When I saw you last,

In that same uniform,

With more stars of valor,

My heart beat wildly, again,

Your face was bleak,

Your manner strained,

I wondered to myself,

If it was the last time.

Letting my mind wander

On another Meander

Up the hills and cliffs

Down the plunge into the deep.

Was it all for nothing;

All the love and

All the hurt,

All the talks and

All the laughing?

Days and nights

Have come and gone

All that’s left is me,

Left to wonder,

What might’ve been !

He saw the world
With the Wonder of a child.
His eyes so loving
His smile so wide
His heart so open.
I took him
I broke him
And then I cast him away.
He was never the same,
He’ll never be the same,
I took him apart,
I crushed his soul.

The Quantum Spy by David Ignatius – a review

I have long been a connoisseur of spy novels. John Le Carre, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, Ian Fleming… you name it and I’ve most probably read it. Therefore it is the name of the novel itself that attracted me to read David Ignatius’ The Quantum Spy. Having never read anything else by Ignatius, I was skeptical going in. Boy, was I surprised !

The Quantum Spy gives an (I hope exaggerated) insight into the technological race between USA, the frontrunner of pretty much everything in the world, and China, aspiring global power numero uno. The focus here is on Quantum Computing, the holy grail of high speed, high efficiency computing that no one has been able to perfect (yet). Both these countries are fighting tooth and nail, spending exorbitant amounts of money and doing unspeakable unthinkable things just to be the first to achieve this goal.

I quite enjoyed the character sketches put forth by Ignatius. Without exception, they are all flawed, which makes them extremely interesting. Harris Chang is a very likeable protagonist, battling inner and outer demons at once, the most blatant one being racism. It is a running theme that no one from both countries can look past his skin colour. The Chinese see an overseas Chinese man, who in their mind, is fundamentally Chinese, though in an American Costume. The Americans just see a Chinese man, whose loyalties are in doubt in lieu of his skin colour. While he starts out as a patriotic American man, a war veteran no less, towards the end, there is a duality in him that is quite appealing. The  main antagonist (that is probably too strong a word), is almost the same. Although in this person’s case, marginalisation rather than racism is the main issue. This person’s actions are justified as having been done for the greater good, which is a little trite. But the portrayal never comes across as dull. Same is true of all the characters.

The story lines blend seamlessly into one another. The complex inner workings of the CIA and the MSS made for very engaging reading. I did find the prose a little unsophisticated in certain places, especially in the beginning, but it seemed to repair itself as the novel went along. All in all, I would characterise it as a surprisingly delightful one-time read.

Messages from old loves

It isn’t often that an old love returns to you (I don’t mean literally comes back to you, just getting in touch, catching up, whatever). Maybe it is more prevalent in this era of social networking and face timing but it still isn’t that often. I sometimes feel that even with a hundred modes of keeping in touch with people, we lose contact with them almost instantly after they leave our immediate vicinity. The saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ has never rung truer.

In such an era, when an old love does contact you after many long years, maybe even decades, what feeling does that Conjure in you ? Is it disinterest ? Is it happy eagerness to catch up with them after a long time ? Is it an anticipation laced with a mild anxiety about the possible awkwardness of the situation ? Or is it a mix of all of the above ?

This has been happening to me with increasing frequency over the past few years. Old boyfriends, people I once considered dating, people with whom I had mutual unstated crushes etc have been climbing back up from the mental abyss I sent them to, to say hello. Often, these interactions are incredibly funny, some of these people I was a child with (now that I’m an old fart, I call past-mes and past-thems children of course) have their own children now. It is interesting to see how our lives have mutated and branched out, gives a unique perspective on the passage of time. Most of the time this ‘coming back to life’ of old flames is amusing, barring a couple of oddballs who make you a little uncomfortable, make you rack your brain for a single reason why you even considered going out with them (lol).

Then there is the one that unsettles you a bit, makes you wonder if there are any embers left in what you have long considered to be a cold hearth. It is that one that prompted this post today. We haven’t spoken since we broke up almost three years ago. Even then it was a very brief affair which we jokingly referred to as Stockholm syndrome at the time (brief and torrid, the kind that gives you butterflies in the stomach when you think back to it). I’m not looking to start up anything. We live in different continents now, and I have a particularly terrible track record in long distance relationships, not to mention it was the long distance factor that ended it in the first place. I just keep echoing in my mind, a general wonderment that he voiced, if  we had done things a little differently, would it have lasted? Of course, that is neither here nor there, it was a long time ago, que sera sera etc.

 

The Sherlock Effect by Raymond Kay Lyon – a review

I have been an ardent fan of Holmesian literature nearly all my life, ever since I picked up ‘The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (in 2 volumes)’ from my mother’s library when I was 11 or 12. I have watched nearly all the dramatizations on film based on the characters, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I still read through the books at least once a year, every year, when I’m conflicted about what to read. Needless to say, I am a reasonable authority when it comes to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional sleuth. This almost obsession is what led me to choose ‘The Sherlock Effect’ by Raymond Kay Lyon from the vast array of books at Netgalley.

The book brings to life, 4 chapters from the adventures of Christopher ‘Sherl’ Sherlock Webster (Holmes) and his college friend and business partner (-in-crime, forgive the pun please) Morris ‘Mo’ Rennie (Watson, of course) who live and solve crimes in present day London (the novel was originally published in 1997 and this review is based on a reprint set to release  on January 25, 2018, so present day might be stretching it a little). Mr. Webster, who grew up and advanced into adulthood resenting his conspicuous middle name given by a Holmes-obsessed father throws himself into everything-Holmes after his father’s demise. Along comes Mo with a plan to open up an agency of consulting detectives (which he offers to bank roll), with the hope that Sherl’s unique middle name will fetch them some clients. It does, and work starts coming their way in due time.

The Sherlock Effect is interesting enough. It is an easy read, written simply and concisely. What is lacking is Conan Doyle’s deductive brilliance, which is the highlight of the original. While the plots are somewhat distinctive, they lack the depth and intrigue which Evokes your inner detective, which keeps you on tenterhooks until the very end. The stories and characterisations are rather transparent. The premise itself isn’t exactly new (it might have been in 1997, but not so much in 2018. There are literally countless works, both in literature and on film, derived from Conan Doyle’s Holmes available today). All in all, I’d characterise ‘The Sherlock Effect’  as an average, enjoyable read that entertains but doesn’t offer much of a cerebral challenge.

P. S : This review is based on a free ebook version of this novel provided to me by netgalley.co.uk. The opinions expressed are my own.

An Astronaut’s guide to life on earth – a very short review

I just finished reading ‘An Astronaut’s guide to life on earth’ by Chris Hadfield. Col. Hadfield is a Canadian Astronaut who served as the Commander of the International Space Station for expedition 34/35. I quite enjoyed his descriptions about preparing for missions (he had also served in two shuttle missions before), the day to day activities and responsibilities undertaken while he was in Mission Control, and of course the wondrous, Miraculous, most amazing adventure ever, actually being in space.

The book is full of little anecdotes that keep you entertained and also teaches you a little something. For example, during the shuttle mission, STS-100, Hadfield was involved in installing Canadarm-2, a robotic arm designed to move parts of the station and catch unmanned supply ships among other things. Because he hadn’t completely wiped off the anti-fog solution (basically detergent) from his visor when he cleaned it the night before, he was temporarily blinded when his water supply leaked into the helmet. So if you’re ever in space, wipe off the anti-fog solution thoroughly before EVAs 😉

All in all the book is very well written, well-worth a read and provides a detailed and highly interesting insight into the efforts that go into the making of an astronaut. As someone who grew up dreaming about the stars myself, I found it especially delightful.