Salsa has somewhat taken over my life this last year, and one night recently I found myself searching Amazon for something to read that would fuel my new-found passion. It was then that I stumbled upon Travels on the Dance Floor by Grevel Lindop. I read the description on Amazon and within minutes I had ordered the book.
“When poet and biographer Grevel Lindop takes up salsa dancing in rainy Manchester, all he has are size 12 feet and excruciating adolescent memories of ballroom dancing lessons. But salsa has a way of getting into your blood. Intense and intimate, sexy and addictive, the adrenalin-pumping Afro-Latin-American dance style soon becomes an obsession. Inspired to learn more, Lindop decides on a solo adventure to find the geographical and cultural roots of salsa. From the streets, bars and dancehalls of Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia to those of Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Miami – land of Cuban exiles – he stumbles across a colourful cast of characters and a raft of new tricks. His quest also gives rise to basic confrontations with himself: can a 6’4″ white, English poet really dance? And what happens when he does? “Travels on the Dance Floor” is Lindop’s vibrant and evocative account of his odyssey, written with wry humour and a poet’s eye for colour, detail and atmosphere. Funny, passionate and inspiring by turns, it is a book that will be loved by dance addicts and armchair travellers alike.“
What makes Travels on the Dance Floor such a readable and fantastic book is that it is written by someone who can actually write. I had not heard of Lindop before, but clearly he is a man who has a way with words and who knows how to create a mood or a scene using the simple power of language. From chapter one, ‘Cuba Libre’, I found myself instantly transported to this Latin world which Lindop had explored and discovered. “The buildings are a fantastic vision of every possible architectural style, all of it cracked and crumbling. Curling iron balconies are adored with birdcages, washing, bicycles, old TV ariels. The narrow pavements are plentifully daubed with the leavings of the packs of friendly stray dogs I’ve encountered every few blocks on my way into town. Elaborate classical facades, moulded with flaking stucco nymphs holding swags of fruit and foliage, adjoin concrete 1940s shop-fronts which have lost their plate-glass windows and had them replaced with sheets of plywood. Mysterious hammerings come from cavernous ground-floor spaces behind metal grilles.” If this was Cuba, I wanted to jump on the next plane and discover it for myself!
Travels on the Dance Floor is also an excellent book because it is real. Lindop is an everyman, and his adventures show both his successes and his failures. He dances in every city he visits, but not all dances are successful. He is learning as he travels, and both his joys and his frustrations are evident throughout the story. I wouldn’t want to read a story about a showman who travelled the world wowing everyone he met with his moves – a story about a man who is learning, and who is still learning at the end of the book, is much more appealing.
As well as being a must-read for anyone interested in salsa, this is also a rather brilliant travel book. Starting in Manchester, Lindop visits Havana (Cuba), Caracas (Venezuela), Bogota (Colombia), Cali (Colombia), Panama City (Panama), San Juan (Puerto Rico), the Dominican Republic and Miami. I find it hard to even pin most of these places on the map, despite loving the music I’ve discovered from these countries, and I found it fascinating to go on a virtual tour with a musical theme. Everywhere Lindop travelled he described the differences in the dance moves he found there, the music, the atmosphere, the clubs, the people, the streets… I felt like I too had been on a whirlwind tour by the time I put the book down.
And it was very reluctantly that I did put the book down after I had devoured it. I wanted more, but I don’t think another book like it exists. Do tell me if it does and I’ll order it immediately. I don’t believe salsa can be taught in a book, but part of learning to dance (for me, at least) is learning about the music and the culture of the countries from which salsa comes. That way, I hope I might learn more than just the steps and the moves, and one day I might find my dancing is filled with ‘el corazón’ as well.
Have you read Miranda Hart‘s book, Is It Just Me?, yet? No? Why on earth not?
I finished reading it yesterday and feel the need to share now. I laughed (out loud, sometimes, while in public places), I almost cried, and I nodded my head in agreement quite a lot (on pretty much every page actually – must have looked like some kind of nodding dog). Throughout most of the book a knowing smile was spread across my face, and people around me on the train or in Starbucks must have wondered what it was that I knew that they didn’t. It was simple – I knew I was reading a gem of a book!
Just before I read the final chapter of the book I had been wandering along a quiet street in south-west London when I suddenly imagined myself bumping into Miranda Hart (probably literally, since we both seem prone to bumping into things). I often imagine such scenarios, and now I know that it’s not just me who does this, which is reassuring. After bumping into Miranda, I imagined apologising profusely, laughing it off together, and then explaining to her that I was just about to finish reading her book and that I loved it. In the past when I’ve met famous people I’ve become a jabbering sweaty fool (sorry Jonathan Ross!), but on this occasion I would exude confidence and wit and Miranda would instantly see that I was her kind of people (that’s how the fantasy went, anyway).
Because I am, dear reader, I am her kind of people. The book asks “is it just me?”, and I can say with total confidence that it most certainly is not just you, Miranda. Never have I read a book I related to more. It was hilarious because life is hilarious, isn’t it? And if you don’t laugh, you’ll probably just cry. Or sit around frowning, which I admit I am prone to doing sometimes.
Right from the first page I knew I was going to love Is It Just Me?. Miranda talks about where you might be reading the book (I was stood in Sainsbury’s having not actually bought said book yet, trying to kill some time because the tills weren’t open – bloomin’ Sunday trading laws). On that first page Miranda makes a reference to commuting, which perfectly describes why I hate it with such a passion: “Maybe you’re standing on a commuter train, using this book as a filter between you and a repellent armpit. If so, I’m terribly sorry. That’s no way to start the day, is it? Face in a pit.“. I knew I was going to love every word that followed.
Is It Just Me? is an amusing romp through life’s trials and tribulations (good word, ‘tribulations’), in which Miranda talks to her 18-year-old self, who attends and all-female boarding school. As she covers each topic, from music and hobbies to office life, to diets, dating and dreams, Miranda gives advice, tells anecdotes and asks “is it just me?”. If you’ve ever seen her wonderful BBC comedy (currently showing series 3 on Mondays at 9pm), you’ll have an idea what kind of stories you’re in for. These are stories of ordinary stuff, like how to balance a drink and plate at a buffet and actually eat the foot on your plate (you can’t, it’s impossible), making small talk with super intelligent people (just don’t get me started on that!), and carrying watermelons (we’ve all seen Dirty Dancing, right?).
But it’s the last chapter on ‘dreams’ which I really adored, and which actually brought a tear to my eye. I won’t ruin it for you, because I do insist you buy and read this book yourself, but Miranda talks about the importance of following one’s dreams, just as she has done. She reminds us all that life is silly and difficult at times, but that we must hold on to our dreams, even the little ones. We must also be honest with ourselves about what those dreams are, and not attempt to make our dreams fit in with what we think we should be doing or what the rest of the world thinks we should be doing. If it’s been your dream since childhood, and it’s still your dream now, then it probably is what you ought to be doing. I’ll give you a small quote:
I think it’s sad when people stop dreaming, or start losing hope. Because holding onto the bonkers dream might just turn out to be the most marvellous thing you ever did…. Allow me to sit back, fold my arms, hoist my trousers northwards and say, ‘YOU. YOU are the person this industry has been waiting for.
So it was with this thought about dreams that I finished Is It Just Me?, while riding on a slightly sweaty Piccadilly Line tube, face not quite in a pit. Ever since I can remember I have been writing stories. When I was a kid I wrote stories about killer piranha fish and Sylvanian Families. Now I write stories about Japan. Although it’s always been my dream to be a writer, I guess I struggle with the idea that I actually could. I find it hard to imagine walking into a bookshop and seeing my book on the shelf (I’d better hurry up or bookshops might cease to exist, what with all this technology), or being invited to a bookshop to give a reading, but why shouldn’t I achieve my dream?
When I heard Miranda had a book out, I just thought it would be a jolly good laugh to read – such fun – and it was, but I didn’t expect to get a real life lesson too.
Thank you, Miranda Hart, for what I call I really fabulous book!
Today’s ‘something new’ was easy to find as it was waiting for me on an empty Tube seat:
Yes, from today, Time Out London magazine has become a free publication, handed out at train stations during the daily commute. I have, of course, read Time Out before, but it’s a new initiative to make the magazine free. I suppose sales must have been down due to the large amount of content available on their website, and also because of the other free publications which are available in London.
I have to admit though, I’ve never really liked the format of Time Out magazine. I quite like their website, and love the weekly emails highlighting free things to do in London and advertising competitions, but I’ve always found the magazine a bit of a waste of money. So, does being free make it any better? For me, no. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’m prone to a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out), so adding another free publication advertising things to do in London to my already growing pile is actually a really bad thing for me. Every day I can pick up the Metro and Evening Standard, and then once a week I find Stylist and Shortlist thrust into my hands. Sometimes other free magazines like aMuse Magazine pop up too. All of them have online versions as well as paper versions, and all of them are bursting with far too much information and more “things to do” than any human could ever possibly fit in. It’s exhausting!
So, after flicking through my new, free copy of Time Out, I recycled it, and decided not to bother picking it up again. Along with all of these…
My other new thing today is to try to put myself first a bit more. I was supposed to go to a talk tonight, which no doubt would have been interesting, but I wasn’t feeling great and I wanted to go home, eat something warming (veggie sausages, homemade oven chips and Baked Beans!) and blog, so I did. I need to learn that I and only I make my decisions, and I mustn’t feel like I’m under any obligation to do things if I decide I don’t want to do them.
The ‘Something New Every Day Challenge’ is going well so far. I’ve decided to try to keep it up for 7 days, and then after that it will just be as and when I can, as it will become too much to post every day (especially with November and NaNoWriMo coming up…). So, 3 days to go…
An interesting thing happened to me at work today. A colleague asked me to search for some information about an event we held around the year 2000 and, knowing that our current website didn’t got back any further than 2002, I searched for the answer on the remnants of our old website. Unfortunately, the information wasn’t there either. In fact, there was no information dated before 2002.
This got me thinking about the time before “online”, and I found it really hard to think back to a time when I didn’t just grab the nearest device with Internet access to find the answers to my questions. These days, without even thinking of alternative methods, we just ask Google all of our questions.
I thought back to the late 90s and early “noughties”, and tried to remember what I was doing back then. I remember emailing people and having a certain amount of Internet access, but I also remember going to the library and looking things up in books.
What a different world we live in today! I honestly can’t remember the last time I went to a library to research something, and that makes me a little bit sad. The thing is though, the information held in libraries becomes outdated so quickly now, whereas the information online can be kept up-to-date, amended and corrected, in mere moments. Just look at Wikipedia.
The SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) protests have been in the news this week, and many of us witnessed the Wikipedia blackout in which content was blocked for 24 hours in protest at proposed anti-piracy legislation in the US. Wikipedia asked, “Could you imagine a world without free knowledge“, but haven’t we always had access to free information through public and institutional libraries?
As much as I wholeheartedly support the protest, I do also wonder if people have forgotten the “good old days”. I realised that I almost had, and that was quite a scary realisation.
As for the information I was searching for at work, we may never find the answer. I don’t know if the organisation I work for even had a website before 2002 but, if they did, there doesn’t seem to be any record of it. There may be printed papers somewhere, but they will most likely be lost in the sands of time by now.
As I’ve mentioned before, this is my year of being frugal and trying to get as many freebies as possible. So, you can imagine my sheer happiness when I came across a voucher to get a free box of nibbles!
Graze is a funky little company which delivers slender boxes of yumminess right through your door, as often as you want them. Each box costs £3.49, but I got my first one for free. Here it is:
On their website, you can go through all of the different items they offer and rate them. If there’s something you don’t like, you simply mark it “bin” and they won’t send it to you. If you mark something as “like” or “love” you should get it more often.
Along with the little packs of food, there’s also a leaflet telling you the nutritional information (and calorie count) of everything, and also the ingredients. The boxes are delivered by Royal Mail, and they fit through your door, so you don’t even have to be home to receive them (although I did enjoy receiving mine at work today and having something to nibble on in the afternoon).
This is without a doubt one of the best freebies I’ve ever received. The only down-side is that now I’m tempted not to cancel my membership but to continue getting the boxes. For £3.49 a week I can enjoy a little surprise and something yummy, which has to be better than wasting my money on chocolate biscuits at the supermarket and eating them all in one go (not that I’d ever do that…).
Anyway, I have a special deal which means I get the next one half price (£1.75) and with £1 off (£0.75), so I think I might stay signed up for a while longer.
Oh, I also got a free copy of The Economist today. That’s in addition to my daily Metro and Evening Standard newspapers, and weekly Stylist and Shortlist magazine. Living in London, I certainly don’t need to buy any reading material! 😉
According to Elizabeth Gilbert, “There’s this wonderful old Italian joke about a poor man who goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, ‘Dear saint – please, please, please… give me the grace to win the lottery.’ This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, ‘My son – please, please, please… buy a ticket.‘”
My lament has gone on long enough. It’s time I bought a ticket. I don’t really think that trying to win the lottery is the way forward though – the odds aren’t really that great. So instead, my “ticket” will be a metaphor for action.
I haven’t been lamenting because I’m poor (although I’m not exactly rich). No, I’ve been lamenting because come April I will be unemployed for the first time in over ten years (if you count part-time jobs). I won’t have an income, and I will be back at my Mum’s house in a town I don’t really want to live in (nothing personal to anyone living there).
So I need to make a plan of action – I need to buy my ticket. If I don’t have a ticket, I’m never going to win, am I?
Plan of Action
1) Spruce up my CV.
2) Make a list of all the companies I would like to work for and agencies who deal with those kinds of companies.
3) Apply! (Even if no jobs are advertised.)
4) Believe that I can get a new job (this is a belief based on the knowledge that I’ve done everything in my power – not just a vain belief)
Wish me luck! 😉
I have a confession to make. Recently, and not for the first time, I have got into a book, even though it’s meant for kids or teenagers. Yes, me, a fully grown woman, reading books about teenage vampires. I’m talking about Twilight, of course.
As I said, this is not the first time. Before Twilight came along, I read Harry Potter. In both cases, I resisted reading the books for a long time. Even when they became hugely popular and movies were made of them, I still tried to resist. I thought I should be reading grown-up books. But, both times, a friend eventually recommended the book to me, and I do like to trust a friend’s recommendation. So, I gave in.
As for Harry Potter, I enjoyed reading the books, although I grew a bit tired by the time I read the last one. I felt it had gone on a bit too long. I also watched the movies, but gave up on them somewhere along the way. The movies were good, but much more for kids than the books, I felt. The books, despite being written for kids, included a lot of adult themes and jokes; things which would perhaps go unnoticed by the younger kids.
Twilight also seems very adult, despite being written for teenagers. Actually, when I first started reading it I was still resisting, and still thinking “this book’s for kids!”. But, about half-way through, when it started getting really romantic, I found myself getting drawn in further. As a teenager, I had been really into vampire stories – I liked Anne Rice and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and reading Twilight just brought it all back for me. I guess it makes me feel like a teenager again, and that’s why I like it (god I sound old!).
I do have one final guilty pleasure to confess: The Carrie Diaries. This is a prequel to Sex and the City, about Carrie as a teenager and, actually, I didn’t realise it was meant for teenagers when I bought it! It wasn’t until I started reading that I cottoned on. But, despite that, I really enjoyed it and can’t wait for the next book. It was painfully funny at times and, again, reminded me of being a teenager.
So, this all leaves me wondering: should I be writing books for teenagers? I had feared that perhaps teens would soon be quitting reading in favour of computer games and movies, but it seems that maybe that isn’t the case – yet. Anyway, if I write a book for teenagers and no teens want to read it, I’m sure some adults will! 😉
Recently, I’ve been teaching a bit of poetry to one of my private students at work. She’s quite enthralled with it all, and it’s been making me miss my poetry collection back home. Until I’m reunited with my books, I will have to make do with the Internet. Yesterday was National Poetry Day. I used to try to write something on National Poetry Day, but this year I settled for reading. This morning, I discovered a Chilean poet called Pablo Neruda. He wrote this wonderful poem, translated by Alastair Reid, called “Return to a City”. Here it is:
Return to a City
What have I come to? I ask them.
Who am I in this dead city?
I can’t find either the street or the roof
of the crazy girl who once loved me.
There’s no doubting the crows in the branches,
the monsoon green and boiling,
the scarlet spittle
in the eroded streets,
the air heavy–but where,
where was I, who was I?
I understand only the ashes.
The betel-seller looks at me,
recognizing neither my shoes
nor my recently resurrected face.
Perhaps his grandfather would grant me
a salaam, but it so happens
that he succumbed while I was travelling,
dropped deep into the well of death.
I slept in such a building
fourteen months and the corresponding years;
I wrote out my misery.
innocently into bitterness.
I pass now and the door is not there.
The rain has been working overtime.
Now it dawns on me that I have been
not just one man but several,
and that I have died so many times
with no notion of how I was reborn,
as if the act of changing clothes
were to force me to live another life,
and here I am without the least idea
of why I cannot recognize a soul,
of why no one recognizes me,
as if everyone here were dead
and I alive in the midst of such forgetting,
a bird that still survives–
or, the reverse, the city watching me,
and realizing I am the one who is dead.
I walk through the silk bazaars,
and the markets of misery.
It is hard to believe the streets
are the selfsame streets; the black eyes,
hard as nailpoints,
glare back against my glances,
and the pale Gold Pagoda
with all its frozen idolatry
has no eyes now, no hands,
no longer any fire.
Goodbye, streets soiled by time,
goodbye, goodbye, lost love.
I return to the wine of my house,
I return to the love of my loved one,
to what I was and to what I am,
water and sun, earth ripe with apples,
months with lips and with names.
I come back not to return;
no more do I wish to mislead myself.
It is dangerous to wander
backward, for all of a sudden
the past turns into a prison.
Eat, Pray, Love.
First, I saw the preview for the movie. Then, I decided to read the book. Finally, I saw the movie. Now, I have to admit… I’m totally in awe of Elizabeth Gilbert. I want to meet her, shake her hand, and tell her she’s my hero.
OK, so I can’t actually relate to her story. It’s a story of divorce – something I know nothing about. But on the other hand, I can relate to her story so much. It’s a story of breaking free from the life you think you have to live, daring to ask yourself the radical question “What do you want to do?”. It’s a story that reminds us that it’s ok to eat a whole pizza once in a while, that it’s ok to stop and think about life, and that when we stop looking for all the things we think we need, the ones we actually need find us anyway.
I won’t ruin the story for those of you who haven’t read it yet. I will just say READ IT. As for the movie, watch it after you’ve read the book, and accept that it is different from the book, but allow it to carry you away on an adventure anyway.
Oh, and then read “Committed”, which is a sort of sequel.
If you tell me, after reading these books, that they didn’t have a profound affect on you, or that you don’t now want to travel or start something new, I won’t believe you.
Finally (and this will make more sense once you’ve read “Eat, Pray, Love”), find yourself a “Richard from Texas”. I think everyone needs one in their lives… 😉