sexta-feira, outubro 06, 2017

Return to Serra da Estrela

Serra da Estrela, the highest mountains in Portugal, were always special to me, ever since I was a child and we would go there on Christmas time from my grandparents' home, which was not far. I loved the snow and the big granite boulders, the daytrips we took there were somewhat magical and different from our daily lives.

I went back a few times as a teenager, and later had a wonderful holiday there in the winter of 1989 with my girlfriend and a couple of good college friends - I remember driving towards the Torre (the highest point) through the mist and snow, a beautiful Narnian landscape.

I hadn't been back since then, and now I went back for a weekend in Manteigas with my family. And the feeling has remained the same, even if it was late summer and not winter, and the mountain was dry after a rainless summer. I always loved that rough summer landscape of granite boulders, brown and golden hills dotted with small dry green bushes, so reminiscent of my childhood summers at my grandparents' - playing cowboys and Indians with my sisters and cousins, stepping over a wild vipers' nest and running away, enjoying a respite from the dry heat under the rare tree.

The guesthouse near Manteigas had a splendid view over the glacial valley of the Zêzere river, and from there we hiked along the Wildboar route - no wildboars in sight, but a beautiful 11 km hike from the chestnut trees in the valley to the arid granitic boulders and back amid tall pine trees.

The next day we had a beautiful drive across the mountain, stopping here and there to enjoy the views and to have lunch at Sabugueiro, a village where I had stayed in that 1989 trip, now full of tourist shops along the main road, but keeping its old centre with the granite church and courtyards just the same as in centuries.

In between hikes and drives, we ate a lot of the wonderful regional food - lots of great cheese, grilled meat, chanfana (a very tasty goat stew) and pumpkin jam.

All in all, it was a great weekend, not only beautiful landscapes, tasty food and nostalgic hikes, but also great family time together.

segunda-feira, setembro 04, 2017

Sowing - an autobiography of the years 1880 to 1904, by Leonard Woolf

So, after reading the beautiful collection of Virginia Woolf's memoirs, Moments of Being, I ordered the first volume of Leonard Woolf's autobiography, and am mighty glad I did. It's very well written, in a style totally different from his wife's or Strachey's, very controlled and matter-of-factly, but pleasant to read, especially for the content. Leonard Woolf comes up as an extremely sensible and intelligent man - and he must have been also extremely patient, because I'm sure Virginia was not an easy person to live with - and one can understand how he fit so well in the Bloomsbury group, not being an artist himself, and was able to form such a stable and long partnership with the genius Virginia was.

I particularly liked his account of his Cambridge days, of the group of friends under the influence of G.E. Moore that were the roots of the Bloomsbury group - the blooming would come later, once the Stephen sisters were added to the group. They still represent for me the fascinating transition from 19th to 20th century civilization, the beginning of the Modern Age I so admired.

Looking forward to read the other volumes.

The facade tends with most people, I suppose, as the years go by, to grow inward so that what began as a protection and screen of the naked soul becomes itself the soul. This is part of that gradual loss of individuality which happens to nearly everyone and the hardening of the arteries of the mind which is even more common and more deadly than of those of the body. [...] I suspect that the male carapace is usually grown to conceal cowardice. [...] It was the fear of ridicule or disapproval if one revealed one's real thoughts or feelings, and sometimes the fear of revealing one's fears, that prompted one to invent that kind of second-hand version of oneself which might provide for one's original self the safety of a permanent alibi.

But when I was a young man, Karl Marx and the Russian communists had not yet invented the international political lunatic asylum of twentieth century communism in which intelligent people can, in the name of humanity, satisfy animosities and salve their consciences.

It is true that in a sense "we had no respect for traditional wisdom" and that, as Ludwig Wittgenstein complained, "we lacked reverence for everything and everyone." If "to revere" means, as the dictionary says, "to regard as sacred or exalted, to hold in religious respect", then we did not revere, we had no reverence for anything or anyone, and, so far as I am concerned, I think we were completely right; I remain of the same opinion still - I think it to be, not merely my right, but my duty to question the truth of everything and the authority of everyone, to regard nothing as sacred and to hold nothing in religious respect. That attitude was encouraged by the climate of scepticism and revolt into which we were born and by Moore's ingenuous passion for truth. The dictionary, however, gives an alternative meaning for the word "revere"; it may mean "to regard with deep respect and warm approbation." It is not true that we lacked reverence for everything and everyone in that sense of the word. After questioning the truth and utility of everything and after refusing to accept or swallow anything or anyone on the mere "authority" of anyone, in fact after exercising our own judgement, there were many things and persons regarded by us with "deep respect and warm approbation": truth, beauty, works of art, some customs, friendship, love, many living men and women and many of the dead.

One loves and hates one's family just as - one knows and they know - one is loved and hated by them. Most people are both proud and ashamed of their families [...] There is therefore a bitterness and ambivalence in these loyalties.

quarta-feira, agosto 30, 2017

Maddaddam, by Margaret Atwood

I loved the whole MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood, it's extremely well written and eerily real. The first two volumes were so exceptionally good I naturally had great expectations regarding the third. They were half met - it's still a very good book, but I felt a little uncomfortable with some of the developments, like the communication between the Crakers and the Pigoons, that seemed to me, unlike most of the other issues in the books, not grounded on science and so not that believable. Also, Zeb's story was not nearly as interesting as Toby's, Ren's or Jimmy's. Even so, it's a great book, and I highly recommend it.

domingo, agosto 06, 2017

O Sistema Periódico, de Primo Levi

A very interesting book; Primo Levi writes about previous life experiences from the perspective a a chemical scientist, his occupation before writing full time. The book consists in a series of independent texts, in chronological order, each named after a chemical element. It's an ingenious way to organise a memoir, and he succeeds beautifully. His writing is somewhat austere but always pleasant, and his musings are insightful and intelligent. Through his stories, one becomes acquainted with the situation in Italy during fascism, WWII and the post-war period, not only regarding the Jewish question. And he has the inestimable capacity to turn his reminiscences and reflections about himself and his experiences into a general musing about life in general; this capacity of universalising their experiences and thoughts is the true mark of a great writer.

domingo, julho 23, 2017

The Master Algorithm, by Pedro Domingos

This is a most interesting book about a fascinating subject - machine learning. It really helps you to understand the brave new world we live in. I admit I haven't understood all the details, my mind works in a gestalt way, and I couldn't really picture some of the concepts depicted in the book, But even so, the basics are extremely well explained, and I learned a lot. The writing is very good, the author reveals a remarkable culture and knows how to explain scientific stuff to lay people. A very enjoyable and informative book.

quinta-feira, julho 20, 2017

Moments of Being, by Virginia Woolf

I wonder why I hadn't read this wonderful book yet, being such a fan of Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury. Which was fine, since I could have the unspoiled pleasure of reading it now for the first time. What a joy, after so many biographies of Bloomsberries, diaries of Frances Partridge and such, to read the real thing, the exquisite prose of Virginia Woolf herself, so much better than all the rest! This book is a posthumous collection of autobiographical essays written at different points of her life, which, besides the quality of each one, allows us to see how her writing evolved and changed over the years.

Reminiscences is clearly a youth piece, still very conventional and ladylike, but with clear signs of the immense talent and originality waiting to explode. A Sketch of the Past, written when she was a mature and accomplished writer, is amazing, as Old Bloomsbury, one of the three texts written to be read at the Memoir Club, the one that most perfectly depicts what Bloomsbury was and why it was such a groundbreaking movement. 22 Hyde Park Gate and Am I a Snob? are the other two pieces, perfect examples of her wit and inimitable style. What a pity depression got her at 60, when she was still so aware and productive, how many wonderful texts she could have written.

domingo, junho 25, 2017

The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood

This is the second book of the MaddAddam trilogy, and it's as good - and scary - as the first. Margaret Atwood really has a knock for the dystopian, she creates them believable and plausible. And her characters show a thorough understanding of human nature. Excellent.