Some Random Thoughts
I can’t find a source which categorically affirms it, but I think Monopoly must be the world’s most successful board game. According to Wikipedia (a decent source for verifying basic facts), it wasn’t invented entirely by Charles Darrow, but initially by one Elizabeth J. Magie Phillips, who in 1903 created a game which was intended ‘to illustrate the negative aspects of concentrating land in private monopolies.’
It gave me pause for thought one evening recently when a friend who once held down a high-powered and lucrative career (and who gave it all up to relocate here) commented that the pay was never enough, because the more money he earned, the more ‘stuff’ he wanted. It occurred to me that Monopoly is a metaphor for this lifestyle. You go round in circles, following a complicated set of rules imposed on you by a higher authority, collect a regular pay check (at ‘GO’) and try to avoid jail. In the meantime, you acquire as many possessions as you can at the expense of everyone else. And when you manage to win, so what? You start the cycle all over again. Rather sums it up, really.
It seems to me that Monopoly, sneakily sold as an educational tool to demonstrate the evil aspects of greedy Western culture, is in truth intended to condition us to accept unquestioningly a clockwork routine and a grasping consumer lifestyle.
In the 80s as one of my previous incarnations I was a ‘village girl’, tied to a now ex-husband and without trappings (not for nothing are they called that – see above). Worst was having no books, especially as TV was unwatchable, mainly comprising manic black and white comedies starting the same four actors, drear variety shows and lots of PASOK party political broadcasts – sorry, newscasts. I had about three books, which I was forced to read in rotation, back-to-back. There weren’t many tourist businesses with British owners who had the bright idea of running a book-swap facility, and even if they existed I was without the means to reach them. The sole salvation was a tiny dark second hand shop behind the Old Port, which opened only on a Wednesday morning, and sold old books for the peanuts I could afford. So on Wednesdays I would get the bus into town with some anticipation of being able to amuse myself for a week. Some Wednesdays I arrived to find it firmly closed, and returned to the village almost in tears. Ex-husband was genuinely puzzled: ‘You’ve GOT a book. Why do you want another one?’
So be thankful that you inhabit this island in the days of Amazon, Gutenberg Project (48,000 out-of-copyright tomes available as free ebooks), the excellent Anglican Church library (anyone can borrow, not just churchgoers), books sales, book swaps, and kindly tourists who leave behind their holiday bonkbusters.
My in-laws, incidentally, had ‘a book’ themselves! A copy of Elle Magazine from 1985 (the first Greek edition), proudly displayed on the dining table, and probably still there today.
Talking of books, I have recently come across three of the best novels I have read all my life. They are:
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (obtained by book swap at a taverna). Please persevere; the first part is extraordinarily hard to get into because of its arcane language. I’ll lazily turn to Wikipedia again for a resume of the plot(s):
‘The novel consists of six nested stories that take the reader from the remote South Pacific in the nineteenth century to a distant, post-apocalyptic future. Each tale is revealed to be a story that is read (or watched) by the main character in the next. All stories but the last one get interrupted at some moment, and after the sixth story concludes at the centre of the book, the novel ‘goes back’ in time, ‘closing’ each story as the book progresses in terms of pages but regresses in terms of the historical period in which the action takes place. Eventually, readers end where they started, with Adam Ewing in the Pacific Ocean, circa 1850.’
Sounds weird? Yes, but it is an astounding work of imagination, which examines Man’s incredible ability to be nasty to other people. Some of the stories are tragic, and one is farcically funny; another shows great prescience about the direction our world is going. I have just obtained the film version on DVD (Church table-top sale), and was very dubious about how such a complex book could be translated to film. Well, they managed it very well, though I think anyone who hasn’t read the book will be rather bewildered by the changing plot-lines and time-shifts. Another good reason to read the book!
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (bought inexpensively at Public Bookshop). The ultimate thriller, this novel combines detective work, spies and international terrorism in a journey which takes you from a seedy New York hotel, to Red Square and the White House and locations all over the Middle East. The first-person hero is in a race against time to stop the anti-hero from perpetrating an act of terrorism which could destroy the world, and at the same time he accidentally is obliged to try and solve the perfect murder. Though this makes it sound like a high-rolling James Bond type plot line, it is much more grainy, sometimes sordid and frightening. There is some extremely clever clue-solving, both in the terror-chase plot-line and in the parallel murder-mystery one.
Remarkably, it is Terry Hayes’ first novel, though he has had a very successful previous career as a Hollywood scriptwriter, whose CV includes Mad Max 2 and 3. I Am Pilgrim is likewise action-packed.
11.22.63 by Stephen King (Church table-top sale). An intriguing title, but one that does not resonate much with us Brits. Try it our way: 22.11.63. Ring a bell? Yes, it’s a return to the vintage story of the Kennedy assassination, but with a thoroughly ‘novel’ take. Don’t expect any answers (or even questions) about the conspiracy theories; Lee Harvey Oswald did do the deed in this version. But the twist is that someone from the future is very much trying to stop him, while the Present is desperately struggling to preserve its own Future. The time-travelling hero, from our age, finds a very different America. One reviewer wrote: ‘For me the most interesting feature of the work was King’s elaborate attempt to recreate the wholly different America of the end of the 1950s. King (by no means a crusty conservative) almost (but not quite) portrays this period as, yes, a Golden Age – especially of trust, but also of food that tasted better, of money that was still worth something, of an economy where people still made things, and used the things they made in modest but comfortable lives. ’There’s a particularly moving and telling part of the book where he heads south along the unmodernised highways of the time, which I recommend, not least because after some rather moving descriptions of a lost but recent past, at a Dixieland petrol station he follows the sign for the ‘colored’ lavatories, and finds a pathway, flanked with poison ivy, leading to a plank over a stream. There you have it. You have the one. You have the other too, not to mention the endless smoking, the crude medical care and the filthy, polluted air in industrial districts, and some harsh, disturbing evocations of slum life in the suburbs of big southern cities.’ (Peter Hichens, Mail on Sunday)
The book is worth the read just for this aspect, but the action, which involves the protagonist’s attempts to undo other tragedies as well as the Kennedy one, makes it unputdownably riveting. And it raises many questions about the consequences of what we wish for. For instance, is it better to live a long life as a cripple, or to be saved from this fate and be killed young in Vietnam instead? (I’m not giving away any crucial plot twists here.)
If you don’t like the Stephen King horror genre (I don’t), be assured that this book is a big departure. And perhaps only a practised master such as King could have pulled it off.
Pity the poor beasties during this spring that never quite arrives. Out here in the fields, I nearly stepped on an inch-long tortoise probably just hatched, and thinking ‘Jeez, why did I bother?’ At least walking through the fields is no longer a prolonged squelch, but… at this exact lovely point, the grasses overnight become too long and dense to make it safe. For when tortoises are out, so are the snakes.