Category Archives: Ruminations

A Man Called Ove

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I heard a lot about this book and have to confess I was a bit skeptical.

How wrong is it possible to be be?

If you’ve read The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out A Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson you’ll love this too – it has a very similar style.

Not a word is wasted. There’s very little flowery exposition, just lean spare evocative writing that shows much much more than it tells – the author respects his readers and relies on their intelligence to pick up the nuances and commonalties of human experience and feeling.

Without being in the least saccharin or mawkish, it’s both funny and positive – and surprisingly affecting.

You’ll be sorry to reach the end but exceedingly glad you read it!

Learning from a Presbyterian Buddhist skeptic – David Hume and life

David Hume - Enlightenment Historian
David Hume – Enlightenment Historian

 

Just read this rollicking good tale of unexpected connections and the virtue of tolerance for and learning from divergent views…….

………and the prime dictum of History (and Life – if there’s a difference):

 

Diary of a quarantined man

So, to use a word that has become quintissentially infuriating recently to so many for no really discernable reason,  one had the flu recently.

Which like war is a lot less of an experience than many accounts would have you believe.

Mainly it involves having a brain with the functionality of a sand-filled bobble-headed doll, wedded to the vitality and vigor of a mummified sloth.

There’s not very much interesting about any of it.

Thankfully I’ve progressed to mostly well again, with the odd outbreak of a marshy mucuousy wheeze briefly breaking into a chainsaw buzz death rattle. (I might have made the last bit up).

Thus ended quarantine.

 

Earth as a goldfish bowl?

I’ve just been reading the excellent Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

In just 400 pages or so he traces the history of humanity from our African origins to today – and indeed beyond – it’s truly fascinating, exceptionally written and a trove of interesting information and thought-provoking perspectives on what we are and what makes us what we are; and what we might become.

One of his key concepts – perhaps the overall theme of the book – is that after a period of divergence across the face of the globe, the different branches of humanity are fast reconverging into a single whole. In future the different divisions that we employ today to differentiate between groups of Sapiens will diminish steadily in meaning until it makes no sense to think or speak of anything but a single human society.

Yet Harari also points out that a strong motor and facet of almost all human societies and cultures throughout history has been a strong ‘them’ and ‘us’ distinction. At our origins we there no shortage of others – different species of humans, as well as dangerous animals. Then came migration out of Africa over thousands of years and separation of different human bands across continents.

For thousands of years now though this process has been in reverse, ever more comprehensive and ever faster, with previously distant ‘peoples’ reintegrated into one society. Today only tiny numbers of humans in the remotest of areas remain beyond this renewed shared space – and arguably even they are in truth not detached entirely from the impact of our own world.

The fascinating question perhaps now is what happens when there is no more readily discernible ‘them’ and ‘us’? Harari sees a future where religion and ‘race’ no longer mean very much, and where standards of living are relatively harmonised in a single unified global space.

Who then are the ‘others’? Do we need others?  Will we develop some new divisions? What or whom do we measure ourselves against? Where will the spirit of competition lie? Do we need that? Will there be a fundamental shift in human nature and motivation? Or shall we seek friends and neighbour and yes even enemies beyond Planet Earth? Will homogeneity spur a search for new opportunities for exploration, travel and ‘experience’?

What will historians write of in the (utterly welcome) absence of wars, famine and pestilence? If our dearest dreams come through, what then for humanity? If we live in a world with Star Trek-like harmony and tolerance – but nowhere to go and nothing to do that isn’t already ‘here’? What happens if a species which has been constantly moving and adapting for all its existence arrives at a stage where it can do neither?

What happens if ‘here’ is everywhere? And everywhere is here????

 

The Salt Of The Earth

The Salt of the Earth
The Salt of the Earth

 

How long does it take to plant 2,000,000 trees?

Why would someone give up a safe and lucrative job as an economist with a global institution for the uncertain livelihood of a photographer?

What keeps a person who is steeped in the aftermath of brutal atrocities – and witnesses human savagery up close – sane?

We get an insight into all of these questions in this mesmerising documentary. The range and depth to be found in the experience of the life that Sebastiao Salgado has lived is just hinted at by the variety and profoundness displayed in the previous questions.

 

Serra Pelada Mines - one of Sebastiao Salgado's most iconic images
Serra Pelada Mines – one of Sebastiao Salgado’s most iconic images

Born on a Brazilian farm in Minas Gerais state in 1944, Sebastiao led a conventional life until the age of thirty – earning a Masters in Economics, moving to live in Paris and working on assignment in Africa for the World Bank studying the coffee industry.

He also met and married his wife Lélia Wanick (Salgado) a fellow Brazilian. So far, so usual.

Then one day he picked up a camera Lélia had bought for her studies – and his life changed utterly.

Fascinated and increasingly enthralled, we might even say bewitched, by the world of images, Sebastiao – fully supported by Lélia – made a very radical decision: he gave up his safe, secure and extremely well-paid job as an economist to begin work on a long-term photography project.

If this had failed we might say he was unhinged to take such a step, but with the benefit of hindsight we can say now that it was inspired.

Never an easy path – Sebastiao spent long periods away from his family, which now included children, two boys, along with isolation in remote and difficult, and often dangerous, terrain – his perseverance, dedication and rare talent eventually made Sebastiao one of the world’s most successful photographers.

Ironically, many of his signature photographs came to be taken on the same ground as he had previously trodden as an economist – capturing stills of workers where he had poured over statistics before. Some of his most renowned photos came from coffee plantations; a revolution complete.

A coffee plantation and its workers
A coffee plantation and its workers
A coffee plantation and its workers
A coffee plantation and its workers

This documentary by German film maker Wim Wender (with the help of Sebastiao’s and Lélia’s son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado) delves with empathy and incisiveness into Sebastiao and Lélia’s lives since that momentous change in direction, the highs and the lows, the various projects – including some truly horrendous experiences in Rwanda and Yugoslavia as both were dissolved by the acid of human hate – and their return to Brazil to begin their new project, the Instituto Terra.

If you can see this film, it will be an enjoyable and enlightening experience, tinged with some sadness of course – a bit like life and a fitting testament to a living lens on humanity’s positive and negative elements.