The View from behind the Waterfall

Our view from behind the waterfall – Plémont Bay, Jersey

We cheated coronavirus last week – risking the swab test and two weeks quarantine in an expensive hotel – and escaped to Jersey for a short break before school reopened for Young Friend of the Elephants. It’s a tiny island of gorgeous beaches and on the second day when we hiked the north coast, we arrived, with the weather closing in and the rain spitting, to Plémont Bay: a sandy beach with caves in the rock face and a waterfall. It put me in mind, immediately, of one of the favourite books of my childhood: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, the second novel of the Leatherstocking Tales, and arguably Cooper’s best book:

“We are then on an island!”

“Ay! there are the falls on two sides of us, and the river above and below. If you had daylight, it would be worth the trouble to step up on the height of this rock, and look at the perversity of the water. It falls by no rule at all; sometimes it leaps, sometimes it tumbles; there it skips; here it shoots; in one place ’tis white as snow, and in another ’tis green as grass; hereabouts, it pitches into deep hollows, that rumble and crush the ‘arth; and thereaways, it ripples and sings like a brook, fashioning whirlpools and gullies in the old stone, as if ’twas no harder than trodden clay.”

(James Fenimore Cooper: The Last of the Mohicans)

For those of you who haven’t read it, the book is set in 1757, during the French and Indian Wars, and in the episode quoted above the main characters take refuge from the pursuing Hurons in an island cave in the middle of some waterfalls – Glens Falls, in the Hudson River. According to his daughter, Cooper actually got the whole idea for the book when showing the falls to some Englishmen, one of whom commented that it would make an excellent setting for a romance. I looked it up on the internet, but there is nothing you can really see nowadays – instead of the wilderness described in Cooper’s story, it’s now a completely built up area. I suppose I hoped that it had been preserved as a national park!

Leatherstocking Tales is a series of five books, following the life of Natty Bumppo (you have to wonder where Cooper got such an odd surname from), and through his life telling the story of the expansion of the American colonies towards the west in the second half of the 18th century – with the last novels set in the by then independent United States. In The Last of the Mohicans I think Cooper got it just perfect: it’s an enchanting blend of adventure, nature, history and romance, with a sad ending to the story which makes all the difference. In fact, all of the Leatherstocking Tales have an air of melancholy about them as Natty witnesses the wilderness he knew in his youth gradually vanish to be replaced by ‘civilisation’ and Cooper’s descriptions of nature add greatly to the atmosphere of the stories.

Natty goes by several names in the stories, given to him by his Indian friends and by his enemies – I mostly think of him as Hawkeye, sometimes as La Longue Carabine (Long Rifle in French) but never as Natty Bumppo. He was always a bit too holier-than-thou for my liking, however, and I always preferred his Indian sidekick Chingachgook, a classic noble savage (was Karl May’s Winnetou inspired by him?), together with his family. Chingachgook’s wife, Wah-ta-Wah, appears in the first novel, The Deerslayer, and their son, Uncas, is the last of the Mohicans. Except, of course, that he… but that would be telling.

Nagy indiánkönyv – J. F. Cooper

I first read the Leatherstocking Tales when I was ten – my mum gave me a book voucher worth 100 Forints for my birthday – an absolute fortune in those time, especially for a ten year old – and then took me to the bookshop in the Pioneers’ Department Store on Rákóczi Street so that I could spend it. At the time I was obsessed with Karl May’s Indian (as in Native American) adventure novels, and when I saw a massive book in the shop titled the Big Indian Book, costing a whopping 72 Forints, I just had to have it. My mother, who probably hoped that I would get a dozen books of worthwhile literature like Sir Walter Scott or Alexandre Dumas, was horrified. But you know what? I’ve still got the book. It is nothing more, nothing less but the full Leatherstocking Tales – quite as worthwhile as Scott or Dumas actually, as my mother probably came to realise in due course. (By the way, I did also get round to read Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas, and voluntarily, by the time I was twelve, and I warmly recommend them too, along with Robert Louis Stevenson.)

Further Reading:The novels of James Fenimore Cooper on Project Gutenberg

Lockdown Diaries: Day 39 (Lassie Come-Home)

Locked Down in London, Day 39: Self-Isolation

If your kids are anything like mine, they’re spending the entire lockdown in self-isolation – absolutely voluntarily. Which is what their normally do anyway, whenever they’re home: ensconce themselves in their bedrooms, facetiming their friends/boyfriend (as the case might be), all – the – bloody – time.

They only come out to eat! 🙂

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Nine Books to Get Your Kids Off the Sofa

It’s a dark and stormy night… no, actually, it’s just a dark and miserably wet January afternoon. It’s that time of the year when hardly anybody can be bothered to get off the sofa; the new year’s resolution crowd has already disappeared from the gym. The same is true for our children, who are far too addicted to their electronic gadgets anyway and would do well to spend more time outdoors.

So perhaps this a good time to offer them a good book in exchange for those gadgets; and why not make it a book that will encourage them out of doors? By the time they finish reading, spring will be just round the corner.

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Ice Station (An Antarctic Thriller)

Minus 55 degrees, zero visibility and a raging snowstorm. Nobody at Halley Station should be outside under these circumstances but the station doctor has just discovered that the cold weather gear of one of the scientists is missing from the boot room and according to the sign-in board he has gone to the met tower. Only a hundred metres’ walk but in this weather that’s a lot – and nobody has seen the man all afternoon. Besides, he’s not the meteorologist, so what was he doing there? Perhaps it’s time to get worried!

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They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships

A fit of September blues, accompanied by September skies. (That means grey; where I come from September skies are famous for their particularly beautiful deep blue colour.) My September blues, however, are not merely due to the fact that summer is over; my plans for rowing up the Thames à la Three Men in a Boat are over too. For reasons I don’t want to discuss here not only we didn’t succeed in following the Three Men upriver this summer, we didn’t even have a holiday. Maybe better luck next year?

So – for a while at least – this is the last post in the Upriver series. And what better way to wind up and lighten the September blues at the same time than to immerse ourselves into some books set on boats (and envy the people who get to sail on them)?

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The Bible in Spain

Your Journey Begins Here…

“A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our door step once again. It starts much earlier and is really never over…”

Riszard Kapuscinski: Travels with Herodotus

Your journey is not over! There was once a post here but it’s been updated & republished. Read it here:

The Bible in Spain (updated)

Adventures in Spanish (Captain Alatriste)

When I travel anywhere I like to take a book that relates to the place I’m visiting. It’s usually a novel set there or a book on the history of the place – or more likely, one of each. Walking down Milsom Street in Bath after you read Persuasion becomes that just a little bit more special. The Torre de Oro in Sevilla seems far more impressive when you know its history. And so, planning to visit Venice soon, I recently embarked on re-reading the Alatriste series of Arturo Pérez-Reverte because Book VII, The Bridge of Assassins, is set in Venice. Those famous churches, bridges and canals will acquire a certain sinister significance when viewed through the eyes of the would be assassins of the Doge.

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Just One More Page

Recently I chose to indulge in a little light reading, and the experience was disappointing, to say the least. By way of antithesis, I recalled some great page-turners I read over the years.

So here’s a random list of eleven books for light reading (in no particular order), based on one criteria only: you can’t put them down.

Enjoy.

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Books That Transport You

Following links from one blog to another, as you sometimes do, I came across a book list that immediately took my fancy: The Books That Transport You.

Talk about being bitten by the listmania bug. I immediately decided that I have to make my own list… only to conclude a hundred titles later that I have to rethink my approach. So ten books that – quite literally – transported me to another time, into somebody else’s life or to a place far away…

In no way is this an exhaustive list of books that transport you – to begin with the postman has just delivered a book for me that I am one hundred percent sure would belong on this list, and I’ve only flipped through the pages so far! – but I can always write another list later! 🙂

Enjoy.

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A Little Light Reading

The book under review is: Seven Ancient Wonders by Matthew Reilly

I got this book for Christmas: I fancied a bit of light reading, so taking a recommendation from the internet, I put this book on my Amazon wishlist. And somebody gave it to me.

I came across the author at the time when I was looking for an Australian book to complete a reading challenge. What with the author featuring in the top 50 must read Australian novels at number 31, exactly thirteen places above David Malouf’s Ransom – and boy, was Ransom a good book! – I thought I could count on a solid page turner that wouldn’t engage my brain in any way whatsover. A little light reading.

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