‘The Open Boat,’ by Stephen Crane – review

The Open Boat and Other StoriesThe Open Boat by Stephen Crane

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four men in a dinghy adrift on a sea for 30 hours. The tempest of waves and a great shark occasionally circling around the perimeter of the boat. And the men rowing endlessly as if it were their only tangible way of protesting against their fates. It all happened in reality because the author Stephen Crane himself experienced the ordeal as one of the four men from the sunk SS Commodore off the coast of Florida en route to Cuba, where Crane had been sent as a war correspondent. The short story of the Open Boat is as realistic as it can be based upon a factual event the author himself was fatefully partaken in.

The four survivors of the vessel were aggregates in a dinghy bound by a remote hope of finding a rescue crew in the middle of the ocean that moved them with terrible grace of waves. The men were a captain, a cook, an oiler, and a correspondent, who was the author himself. There was a subtle brotherhood of men built in the boat who took care of each other. Crane surmised that the captain’s heartfelt devotion to the safety of the motley crew resulted in comradeship, which the author himself had always regarded as a hypocritical concept of men until then.

There were indeed moments of despair as their drifting became protracted, and the author saw this as nature not regarding human as important. He would jeer at any signs of nature in any deity form because thinking of the captain and the two other seamen who had worked so hard on the sea in such distress was the abominable injustice.

Stephen Crane was a great American realist writer who later influenced Ernest Hemingway. Born in 1871 as a ninth child of Protestant Methodist parents in Newark, NJ, his literary talent began when he wrote his first poem at the age of eight. Although brilliant, Crane was not academically inclined, so he left University of Syracuse and became a kind of itinerant writer. It is said that Crane was a naturalist writer who emphasized observation in the portrayal of reality based on scientific principles of objectivity and detachment applied to the story of human characteristics. However, in my opinion, he was more of a realist writer who focused on objective, truthful presentations of details of the ordinary lives influenced by Gustave Flaubert and George Eliot. In this story, Crane’s use of vocabulary was pithy and straightforward with elegant expressions of emotions and feelings that so appropriately described the situations in which the characters were trapped.

After Crane’s untimely death at the age of twenty-eight in a Black Forest sanitorium in Germany, Crane’s works began to gain their long overdue acclaim, one of which was this story of the sunk vessel and his own experience thereof. Stephen Crane’s works should deserve wider readership because he’s the first and foremost American writer in Realism literary movement who paid attention to the lives of the ordinary by being the experience of living among the ordinary and writing the existential presentations of the ordinary lives.

저장

“The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” by Handel

IMG_3955 Sally was enjoying alone at Baroque her respite from the demands placed upon her weekly tasks and responsibilities at her new job. Baroque is a newly opened coffee house where her best friend Bonnie is both a manager and attendant, provisioning customers with delicious pastries, cookies, freshly-brewed coffee and exquisitely beautiful Baroque music composed by Bach, Handel, Pachelbel, Vivaldi, et al. at the behest of her aunt Laura, who is the proprietress of the establishment. It is all the more fitting to Sally’s musical taste and sensibilities. Which is why she has made it her elbow room where she can rest herself reading and writing enveloped in an atmospheric ambience of highly sophisticated cultural surrounding rare to find these days.

IMG_3946

Sally likes the delicateness of the Baroque (which means an irregular shape of pearls in Portuguese) music, especially the works of Bach and Handel, the Father and the Mother of Music, or Saints of Music. It’s all in the family blood: her father was an admirer of Bach and felt exalted when listening to Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 In G Major, BWV 1048: Allegro. He might have been wanting of the practical sense of the world or the “gumption,” but his eminent scholarship of the Arts and Humanities was his essence, his primary reality. That’s the legacy of eclectic cultural taste and erudition Sally has extolled and preserved against the struggles of life in which she always tries to grasp on a sense of social and cultural superiority, while guiding her elderly parents on the long taxing climb to financial security. Here in this Sunday morning, Sally’s spirit was flitting in the celestial garden alone, while indulging herself in listening to The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba by Handel. In fact, it’s her favorite musical piece in the world, her primary soundtrack of life, her sui generis leitmotif  that is hers, hers only, hers exclusively.

MI0002991573Bonnie was smiling at her friend Sally’s intoxication with the music outwardly manifested on her pretty face in the form of dreamy look with her eyes closed as if she were watching musicians playing it on stage just for her. That’s one of the reasons Bonnie likes her friend: Sally’s artlessness unsullied by her intelligent prowess makes her trustful, beautiful, and soulful. When Sally opened her eyes, she smiled at Bonnie and started piping up: “You know Bonnie, I love this music so much that all my grief, angst, and trifles desiccate, then die… It’s very vivacious and and jubilant, uplifting my otherwise somber mood to make me believe that the world isn’t that such a bad place to live.” Sally’s eyes becoming sparkling with verve and her cheeks flushed with rose pink, all because of the love of the music. And her rhapsody of love began as follows:

a_frontpagepic
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba is a sinfonia for two oboes and strings written by George Frideric Handel, originally from Germany but later moved to England for advancement of his musical career. By the way his father was an eminent barber-surgeon as it was customary for a barber to work sideline as a dentist and surgeon. That’s a bit odd, isn’t it? Anyway, the music was first premiered in London as the first scene of Act III in the oratorio Solomon. But rather than the whole oratorio, this brightly charming interlude has been widely appreciated as a separate set piece because it’s so appealing to the senses, I presume. Besides, the piece was widely played during wedding ceremonies into the bargain! Come to think of it, it is such a vivacious melody apposite to an entrance of a beautiful bride into a church. You know,  like the beautiful regal queen of Sheba arriving at Jerusalem with a grand entourage, with camels carrying a munificent largess, a resplendent panoply of magnificent treasure!”

IMG_4099While listening to Sally’s lecture on Handel and the sinfonia, Bonnie was envisioning in her mind’s eye a scene in which she as a chaste and beautiful bride in wedding gown like a valley in a vale was entering a cathedral to proceed to the altar where her gallant husband was waiting… That’s a nice change of mundane scenery of life, Bonnie thought. Ah, the power of the music is so irresistibly masculine and impossibly arresting that the only way you can escape from its fatally sensuous intoxication is to yield to it. It’s all because of the magic of music, moody food that is bartered for love. The Bard knew it as well: “In sweet music is such art: killing care and grief of heart fall asleep, or hearing die.”

thanks-for-reading-Rok-Hardware

 

 

 

Friends in need are friends indeed

IMG_3900

“Hey Ed! What are you up to this Sunday? Aren’t you going to a regular Sunday morning Mass with your wife and daughter?” Ralph asked his ever affable chum who stopped by his fruit stand early on the morning of an ordinary but blissful Sunday. Non-conformist he may be, Randy is a deeply faithful man who believes in the existence of God and prays for his divine guidance in his heart, never proselytizing his belief and forcing it on others. He is like Henry David Thoreau, who never went to church in his lifetime but practiced Christianity in everyday life by appreciating the beauty of nature and the love of humanity in its pristine essence in his poetic sensibilities. Ralph is proud of being a bohemian poet/fruit vendor as a confirmed bachelor, who has disembarrassed himself from the burdens of attending martial responsibilities and duties. That being said, seeing his married friend Ed Beaver gives him an associated feelings of sympathy and curiosity, of confinement and comfort, all packaged in the Pandora’s Box of Conjugal Life.

IMG_4095“Hey, Ralph. Well, I am coming from the church after dropping them off there. I would rather bask myself in the Sunday morning sunshine than sit on the dreadful pew and suffer an hour or so by enduring the fidgeting and disquieting of the little ones who have not reached the intelligent  age of learning the Catechism preparatory to their First Communion. These kids… are recalcitrant urchins! Moreover, the parents are complacent about teaching their children how to behave properly in church! That would be no point of hearing a Mass amid the shambolic commotion! That would be a sacrilegious irreverence!” Upon decanting his subdued disaffection toward the uncivil, Ed felt his mind was taken off the anxiety and anger. It’s always so reassuring to talk to Ralph, who’s at once a good listener and reliable friend, thought Ed, who continued: “By the way, do you know Andrew Redfox just opened his mobile hotdog shop? He started it a couple of weeks ago on Grand Avenue, and it got quite successful! The newspaper covered a favorable article about his business a week ago, and people have been talking about his hotdogs and waffles, all handmaid by his wife Monica. Did you try any of the food?”

IMG_4001Ralph heard about the news but did not venture to try the proverbial hotdog or waffle yet because although Ralph was a benign character well balanced with intelligence and humor, he’s quite lazy, succumbed to the habitual routine of staying put in one place, which is his fruit stand. Ant yet, as a self-professed bon vivant, Ralph’s spirit was willing to fly over to Andrew’s hotdog van and have a bite on it, for a hotdog is one of his favorite food in the world. “Yes, I knew Andy’s new hotdog business. Do you want to go there later today? I am planning to wrap it up at 4:00 PM today. Hope Andy’s open today.” “That sounds great, Ralph! Yes, Andy is on the counter today because Andy said he would need to reach his projected profit by the end of this year to pay off his overdue rent fees. You know Andy had been out of job for eight months, and his unemployment benefit was on the brink of being exhausted when his daughter Julie had also lost her job… So this is his big breakthrough in his drifted life, I presume.”

IMG_4094

Hence, both Ed and Ralph went to Andy’s hotdog van and saw it was a success by a glance at a long line of customers to buy hotdogs or waffles, all handmaid at home by his wife Monica according to her honest-to-goodness family recipes passed down from her Belgian maternal great-grandmother. The men were happy to see their friend starting anew once again from the bottom of his existential dilemma beset by economic deprivations and hoped that this new fortunate chance to right the ship of his reinstated life accompanied by his family would sail through. After all, helping a friend in need is what good friends can do because friendship can double the joy and cut the grief in halves. Isn’t that what friends are for?

thanks-for-reading-Rok-Hardware

 

저장

Coffee with Bach and Thoreau

la-patisserie-jean-beraud
La Patisserie by Jean Beraud

It was still early when she got to downtown. And it was still an hour early before her day at the office was to start. That feeling of earliness needed to be indulged by the leisure of solitary coffee time at her regular coffeehouse that had lovely outside seating where you could enjoy a capricious respite with a cup of coffee and watch the swing of things, the world in motion, and the parade of the human race. That time was precious time for Julie, and it was to be observed religiously  in a way the Vestal Virgins guarded the sacred fire in the temple lest it should die out, as that would mean the peril of the Eternal City. The aroma of freshly brewed hazelnut coffee could do so many wonders, and one of them is vitalizing your listless, half-awaken stupor under which you would find yourself an unconscious somnambulist or a peevish whiner. This rhapsody of morning coffee is also testified by a testimonial of Johann Sebastian Bach, the father of Baroque music, who described himself as a “roast goat” without having a cup of sensuously aromatic coffee in the morning.

Julie, as a faithful myrmidon of the power of wonder beverage, got her first morning hazelnut coffee and placed herself in the corner of her regular coffeeshop to set her cognitive functionality for a work day in motion by reading her subscription on Kindle Fire and writing down some notes from the reading. In fact, there was a set of rules of reading Julie adhered to: reading hardcopies on her commuter train and Kindle in coffee-shops because she found such modus operandi of reading quite congenital to her mental exercise. So there she was, doing what she always did, unless otherwise there was anything else that called for her urgent attention to attend before her work hours began. Then when her silver pocket watch indicated twenty minutes to nine, Julie headed for the office. That was how Julie began her normal work days. That was how she began to live another existential everyday.

That particular morning, which was Friday, was a lucky one, for no exigency was awaiting for her to execute first thing in the morning. Julie was a legal assistant at a litigation firm, where a myriad of pleadings, discoveries, settlements, and confrontations were norms of the trade. And it had been only a week since a happy chance placed her into the position offered by goddess Fortuna, who had finally countenanced her new future on the frontier. Yes, it was a frontier, a new land of unyielding dreams, high hopes, and exciting desires that Julie had felt deprived of in that grey, grim land by the Atlantic Ocean. Even Henry David Thoreau attested such tenebrous somberness of the ocean as a Sea of the Old Habits and Constraints that bound people in the Memory of their aborted wishes and crushed ambitions and encouraged them to migrate to the Elysian Fields by the Pacific Ocean, which he romantically compared to the River of Lethe in his poetic pathos. Reader, you might think it as a humbug or even a jest in your most postmodern mode of thinking in the ethos of textual parallax thriving on non-platform media. But when you become known that our life is still woven by the Fates under the supervision of Fortuna and that you are made of spirit, fire, and dew, you will swivel your head in wonderment in recognition of Thoreau’s poetic perspective on the Exodus to a New Land where nature is all the more conspicuous by the relative absence of the Gothic skyline that rudely dominates the vault of heaven on the Other Side of the Continent. Julie knew it all, and that was why she wanted to start anew in the West, where the Lethe of the Pacific flew, where the rugged hills and primitive mountains setting against the deep blue ocean still maintained the rustic charm of a village maiden.

저장

Things can only get better

IMG_3984
Getting ready for work

Patricia has been recently working as a legal secretary at a personal injury law office in the city, the job she secured through her former boss Alfred Petersen, Esq., a high-profile defendant insurance lawyer at a powerhouse Gothic City law firm. Patricia, a principled, intelligent, and discreet character could have found a position commensurate with her ability and experience in the city had the hiring managers in the HR departments been understanding of a nine-month lapse after her resignation from the position of paralegal at a boutique real estate law firm in downtown last year. The reason for her leaving was that the field of law did not turn out to be her best match, pace her previously held naive anticipation that it would require of her less contentious meeting with demanding clients and less leg work that would push her to be out of the doors most of time. Besides, she did not get along with her boss, Susie K. whose whimsicality flitted though the ebbs and flows of her melancholia and in the weather of her sanity with all too frequent paroxysm of hysteria. Patricia wanted to keep her sanity and dignity rather than to succumb to the incivility of an irreparable solipsist. Hence the lapse in her work experience.

IMG_3866
At home

When Patricia needed a helping hand to secure her employment with a B.A. degree that would leave you either overqualified or under-qualified in this ever volatile job market and the inglorious gaping period in-between employment history, she could not help but think of Mr. Petersen who was a lot like the empathetic boss of Bartleby the Scrivener in Herman Melville’s eponymous short story : that intellectually brilliant, characteristically benign, and professionally equable epitome of a “good” boss. Likewise, when Mr. Petersen whose heavenly blend of moral character and intellectual gifts endeared him to many of his admirers got email from Patricia out of the blue, he was willing to cast her a life jacket on a perilous sea under the aegis of his perennial benign influence. Since Mr. Petersen knew that Patricia was a good person who had not only the intellect but also the heart, an angelic admixture of humanity, he phoned one of his best lawyer colleague in town and connected him to her by sending him her resume via email for review and consideration that did not de rigueur need afterthought; it was the job to be had for the asking.

So far Patricia has been well adjusted to her work routine in the new office and the work style of her new boss who’s fair and magnanimous. She only secretly wishes that the current state of things will remain unperturbed because she feels that she’s worthy of such reward after what she went through while being the subject of the vertiginous treatment that knew no reason and stratagem at the expense of her wailing spirit smothering in the existential daily duties and responsibilities. Isn’t it a crime for anyone to yearn such a continuation of equilibrium?

thanks-for-reading-Rok-Hardware