Fulfilling a promise he made to his mother on her deathbed, Juan Preciado returns to the town of his mother's youth in the hope that he will find Pedro Páramo, the father he has never met. What follows is a ghost story, or more accurately, a collection of ghost stories: a spiderweb with Pedro Páramo at its centre and through which we learn of his tale.
From the outset Jean Rulfo's brevity, the novel's narrative shifts, and the distorting effect of its magical realism where there is no distinction between life and death, force the reader to confront the tragic reality of loss, and the pasts and futures with which we will never be able to reconcile. Yet it is with astonishment that we find ourselves not depressed by the end. Rulfo's lack of melodrama and his characters stoic pursuit of life even beyond death, a confirmation that despite what comes, we must - and will - go on.
Atmospheric, sparse, dark, often chilling, this short book - and the only novel published by Rulfo within his lifetime - has been hailed as a masterpiece by many of the writers that we hold in unwavering esteem. (Gabriel García Márquez loved it so much that he memorised the whole thing and could quote it verbatim). Not always easy to find a way in, each re-read brings a deeper appreciation, making this a longstanding resident on our bookshelf.
Desperately Seeking Susan
Our interest piqued when we hear a friend describe Desperately Seeking Susan as a cult feminist classic, we decide to watch it again, having only vague memories of a mid-eighties Madonna and a kooky, downtown, new wave New York.
Roberta Glass (played by a doe eyed Rosanna Arquette) is a bored suburban housewife who spends her days predictably: listlessly getting her hair done, hosting parties for her bland suburban husband, and trying not to eat all the cake (his words, not ours). Crucially she is also an avid reader of the personal ads; in particular a series of posts each titled 'Desperately Seeking Susan'. When a rendezvous is arranged close by, Roberta cannot resist spying on the encounter and embarks on an adventure that will eventually lead to amnesia, several cases of mistaken identity, a stint in a nightclub as a magician's assistant, and the eventual return of a pair of stolen earrings that once belonged to Nefertiti.
Accurately described as 'a genial farce' by the New York Times, it's easy to dismiss the film as just a piece of fun. Dig a little deeper however and you realise that what it has at its heart is a portrait of a woman reinventing herself. That it is, essentially, a film written and directed by women, starring two female leads, with a focus on women's agency and self-determination. A strong case indeed for our friend's recent categorisation.
The Minerals gallery
That we find a crystal or a poppy beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe.
- John Berger
Housing its collections in the original oak display cases that have been there since 1881, the Minerals gallery at the Natural History Museum has remained essentially unchanged since its opening, making it as much of a gem as those it holds within it.
A regular haunt, our favourite time to visit is just as the museum opens. Arriving before the first of the tourists, we head straight to the gallery, where light streams in on both sides. Standing amongst glass cabinets, surrounded by beauty and a collection of minerals, rocks and gems that spans more than 4.5 billion years of Earth's history, it's hard not to feel humbled. It has become a meditation of sorts. Silence broken by the footsteps of others entering the space, we walk slowly round once, before heading out to start our day.
(If visiting for the first time don't miss The Vault, situated at the back of the Minerals gallery, where some of the museum's rarest treasures are stored.There is an unreal quality to the exhibits here. Our favourites' names read like song lyrics: Diamonds from stardust, A piece of the moon, Rain in sea water. They keep us at a distance, their beauty and histories too hard to describe, too much to fully comprehend).