The Letter A

 

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Images from our retreat (c) A.Harrison

Some places carry so much collective history their names evoke memories even before you visit: Casablanca, Paris, Rome. Others have been re-baptised, yet it is the old name which beckons: Saigon, St Petersburg, Constantinople. Others entice on the melody of their name alone, such as Timbuktu, or Koya-san, Japan’s Holy mountain.

Then there’s The Letter A. That’s what the sign says. The Letter A. It’s one of the reasons we bought our retreat. Continue Reading →

The Canals of Bruges

The canals of Bruges
The canals of Bruges

What struck me most was the way the sunlight danced across the water. It had been raining in Paris, and the rain had followed me as the train sped past windmills and back-roads lined with poplars decked in autumn finery. Old stone farmhouses sat in tilled fields of soft green.

Yet when I reached Bruges, in Belgium, the sun broke through the grey clouds. The whole city had emerged into the sunshine to promenade through this medieval city, or else pass by in horse and carriage.

To meander along the canals of Bruges is to step back into the Middle Ages. Willow branches tickle the water as swans drift grandly by. Stepped rooves zigzag against the sky in classic Flemish style. The canals, dressed by the fallen leaves of autumn, sparkle in the morning sun. Having a hotel room with a window opening onto a canal is delight. Continue Reading →

e.e Cummings: The Enormous Room

 

writing pictures0003This novel was for me a most delightful find. My knowledge of cummings until now was limited entirely to his poetry. I did not realise that Cummings (Edward Estlin Cummings, American, 1894-1962) was also a poet, painter, essayist, author and playwright.

Indeed, to my mind this autobiographical novel is largely poetry written as prose.

The novel opens with a (factual) letter from his father to President Woodrow Wilson, begging help in finding news of both his son and friend, who were arrested while volunteering with the French during WWI. Cumming’s father had received various notifications from French officials regarding his son, including one stating he was dead.

The novel proper begins in October 1917, when both cummings and his friend are arrested. Fluent in French, cummings had volunteered for the ambulance corp, along with his friend, who is only ever referred to as B. (Both were arrested pending investigation as traitors, following letters written by B to relatives back in America, which a censor thought too critical of the war. B wrote of ‘war weariness’. Despite being detained for over four months, cummings was never charged.) Continue Reading →

The Lan Kwai Fong Hotel @ Kau U Fong, Hong Kong

Where A Witch Doctor Stays

 

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Anything and everything is for sale

The Lan Kwai Fong Hotel @ Kau U Fong is not only my favourite place to stay in Hong Kong, it is one of my favourite boutique hotels.

Why?

Firstly, the location. The area around the hotel combines all that is Hong Kong, from its colonial heritage to the high-class hotels and shopping malls of Central, to the remaining tenements once rife with cholera, plague, and other delightful diseases; the sites of the old death houses are now apartments; anything can be bought from the shops selling opening straight onto the streets, fantastic cafés and restaurants compete for your attention, not to mention the dry and wet markets a few streets away. Then there are the hills. Walking the streets here does require stamina. The Lan Kwai Fong is just a few streets away from the nightlife and beautiful young things of the LKF area, yet is a world apart. Continue Reading →

Lin Heung Tea House, Central, Hong Kong

House Soup, Lin Heung Tea House
House Soup, Lin Heung Tea House
(c) A Harrison

This is how dining used to be in Old Hong Kong: chaotic, crowded, fast-paced and delicious. Those preferring plush seats, waiters fluent in English and a table to oneself should best dine in the large hotels.

The Lin Heung Tea House stands on the corner of Aberdeen and Wellington St, in the that part of Hong Kong Island called either Central, Western or Lan Kwai Fong, depending upon which guide-book or map you use. It is a five minute (uphill) walk from Central MTR, and is opposite the Hotel Lan Kwai Fong.

Despite the name, the Lin Heung Tea House is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For a first timer to the Fragrant Isle, the place can be overwhelming, but is well worth the effort. In traditional style, plates and cups are rinsed before use in a bowl of hot water sitting on the table. Tables are communal, and at busy times it is often easiest and quickest to find your own seat. (Locals will often wave you over to join them). Continue Reading →

The Quiet American – Graeme Greene

Under the skilful hand of Graeme Greene, the tone of The Quiet American changes with

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An old map of Saigon

each reading. The soft voice of Fowler contrasts with the violence of the world around him.

After dinner I sat and waited for Pyle in my room over the Catinat

So opens the novel. Not until the novel’s ending do we realise Fowler knows Pyle to be dead, although he pretends to himself Pyle may have escaped the doom Fowler himself helped arrange, if only by proxy. What exactly drives Fowler to this – for he knows what will come of Pyle should Fowler simply stand by a window, reading. Although he pretends otherwise, Fowler himself does not really understand his motives. Despair in the false foundations of Pyle’s good intentions; the hypocrisy which sees innocents die to impress the politicians of home good cause; jealously; fear of being alone; justice – all these play a role, yet even Fowler never knows the predominant emotion. What angers him most is Pyle’s blindness to the hypocrisy and faults of his beliefs, yet anger is an emotion the repressed Fowler can not express. Continue Reading →