Saturday, June 30, 2007

Recommended Summer Readings

Recommended Fiction:
The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant are two of Oscar Wilde's most acclaimed tales. They make a good B2 upper-level summer reading. By clicking on the links above, you will have full access to a digital edition of theses magical tales.

Recommended Non-Fiction:
The United States of Europe : The Superpower No-One Talks About, by T.R. Reid
From one of America's best known foreign correspondents, an eye-opening account of the ascendancy of the European Union as a global superpower and rival to the United States. The European Union, from its beginnings as an experiment in statecraft, has rapidly emerged as a resounding success, yet Americans have so far managed to ignore the geopolitical revolution under way across the Atlantic. Reid shows how quietly - and not so quietly - Europe is developing itself into an economic, political and cultural powerhouse.
How did Europe become a superpower while America wasn't paying attention? Here, American journalist T. R. Reid takes an enlightening tour of the United States of Europe' - the borderless collection of countries with more people and wealth than America. With his trademark wit and wisdom he explains the often-bewildering ins and outs of the European Union and the culture its nations have come to share - from the common pastime of America bashing and the kitsch joys of the Eurovision Song Contest to the skyrocketing success of the Euro, trouncing the once-mighty dollar in strength. And he tells many individual stories of this drama, including the astonishing takeover of all-American products by European companies, the English greengrocer who became a Metric Martyr' and of the new breed of twenty and thirty-somethings known as 'Generation E'. Essential for readers on both sides of the Atlantic, The United States of Europe is an insightful and entertaining guide to a New Europe th at now makes the world's rules, whether America likes it or not.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Open Letter to Laura Bush

For reasons spelled out below, the poet Sharon Olds has declined to attend the National Book Festival in Washington, which, coincidentally or not, takes place September 24, the day of an antiwar mobilization in the capital. Olds, winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award and professor of creative writing at New York University, was invited along with a number of other writers by First Lady Laura Bush to read from their works.


Laura Bush
First Lady
The White House

Dear Mrs. Bush,

I am writing to let you know why I am not able to accept your kind invitation to give a presentation at the National Book Festival on September 24, or to attend your dinner at the Library of Congress or the breakfast at the White House.

In one way, it's a very appealing invitation. The idea of speaking at a festival attended by 85,000 people is inspiring! The possibility of finding new readers is exciting for a poet in personal terms, and in terms of the desire that poetry serve its constituents--all of us who need the pleasure, and the inner and outer news, it delivers.

And the concept of a community of readers and writers has long been dear to my heart. As a professor of creative writing in the graduate school of a major university, I have had the chance to be a part of some magnificent outreach writing workshops in which our students have become teachers. Over the years, they have taught in a variety of settings: a women's prison, several New York City public high schools, an oncology ward for children. Our initial program, at a 900-bed state hospital for the severely physically challenged, has been running now for twenty years, creating along the way lasting friendships between young MFA candidates and their students--long-term residents at the hospital who, in their humor, courage and wisdom, become our teachers.

When you have witnessed someone nonspeaking and almost nonmoving spell out, with a toe, on a big plastic alphabet chart, letter by letter, his new poem, you have experienced, close up, the passion and essentialness of writing. When you have held up a small cardboard alphabet card for a writer who is completely nonspeaking and nonmoving (except for the eyes), and pointed first to the A, then the B, then C, then D, until you get to the first letter of the first word of the first line of the poem she has been composing in her head all week, and she lifts her eyes when that letter is touched to say yes, you feel with a fresh immediacy the human drive for creation, self-expression, accuracy, honesty and wit--and the importance of writing, which celebrates the value of each person's unique story and song.

So the prospect of a festival of books seemed wonderful to me. I thought of the opportunity to talk about how to start up an outreach program. I thought of the chance to sell some books, sign some books and meet some of the citizens of Washington, DC. I thought that I could try to find a way, even as your guest, with respect, to speak about my deep feeling that we should not have invaded Iraq, and to declare my belief that the wish to invade another culture and another country--with the resultant loss of life and limb for our brave soldiers, and for the noncombatants in their home terrain--did not come out of our democracy but was instead a decision made "at the top" and forced on the people by distorted language, and by untruths. I hoped to express the fear that we have begun to live in the shadows of tyranny and religious chauvinism--the opposites of the liberty, tolerance and diversity our nation aspires to.

I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to bear witness--as an American who loves her country and its principles and its writing--against this undeclared and devastating war.

But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration.

What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting "extraordinary rendition": flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.


Monday, June 11, 2007

American Cartoonist Randy Glasbergen

Convivir en la ciudad

Nueva York cumple 100 años. Aunque sus orígenes se remontan a 1626, fecha en la que los colonizadores holandeses compraron la isla de Manhattan a los indios nativos por 60 florines (unos 22 euros), fue realmente en 1897 cuando se soldaron los 40 municipios que hoy forman la Gran Manzana. Polifacética, tolerante, generosa y dispuesta a todos los excesos, Nueva York es un paradigma de contrastes. Este escenario gigantesco, donde convivimos apretados ocho millones de vecinos, nos expone constantemente a imágenes muy vívidas y discordantes de riqueza y miseria, de saber e ignorancia, de orden y caos. Representa el epicentro del materialismo duro, la meca del estrés y la competitividad, y el foco de los conflictos humanos más abrumadores. Pero al mismo tiempo es el frente de la innovación, el paraíso de las esperanzas sin límite, de las aspiraciones y de las oportunidades. Quizá más que ninguna otra cosa, Nueva York concentra y exagera las virtudes y desafíos de la convivencia en las urbes modernas.
La esencia de las ciudades se compone, por un lado, de la arquitectura, las piedras y el cemento que las configuran, y por otro, de las emociones, las ideas y los ritos de los hombres y mujeres que las habitan. Esta extraordinaria combinación constituye el instrumento por excelencia de renovación social y de progreso. Es verdad que, desde tiempos remotos, pensadores ilustres han pintado las capitales de su tiempo como centros fríos y deshumanizados de depravación y de peligro, mientras que glorifican la vida campestre como más grata, virtuosa y saludable. Si bien el ambiente tranquilo y bucólico de los pueblos pequeños posee un atractivo seductor que nos invita a su idealización, no somos pocos quienes con el tiempo hemos llegado a la conclusión de que es realmente en las ciudades donde se desatan las pasiones, se libera la imaginación y se forja el destino de la humanidad. Después de todo, ¿no es la historia de la civilización la historia de las ciudades?
Los seres humanos pensamos, sentimos y nos comportamos de forma diferente en el entorno urbano que en el campo. El ambiente denso, dinámico y variado de las ciudades extrae de nosotros en todo momento un nivel superior de entendimiento y de conciencia. Sus libertades, sus opciones y su ritmo acelerado agudizan la intuición y avivan los dilemas sobre nuestro papel en la sociedad, sobre nuestra realización y sobre el significado de la existencia. Las ciudades estimulan además fórmulas inéditas de convivir y de relacionarnos, premian la originalidad y fomentan soluciones novedosas para abordar los problemas más insolubles de la vida. Y al sentirnos mucho menos coaccionados por reglas inflexibles de conducta o presiones homogeneizantes, tan típicas en las zonas rurales, expresamos más libremente nuestras convicciones, nuestro inconformismo y nuestra creatividad.
Hace años se pensaba utópicamente que con la migración o el flujo constante de nuevos habitantes las grandes urbes se convertirían en una especie de crisol para fundir razas, etnias, culturas y lenguas distintas. Hoy sabemos que no es así. Las ciudades actuales reflejan, más que una población híbrida, vibrantes mosaicos de gentes diversas que mantienen su individualidad y preservan su identidad. Esta heterogeneidad demográfica, a su vez, suscita en los hombres y las mujeres una perspectiva más relativista y tolerante hacia las diferencias.
Las ciudades, en fin, son el símbolo de la convivencia humana, el medio portador del conocimiento y el caldo de cultivo de las ideas. Constituyen un punto obligado de referencia, un escaparate ideal que permite observar y experimentar genuinamente la evolución de la humanidad y la lucha de millones de héroes anónimos por una mejor calidad de vida. (El País Semanal, 1997) Foto: Arnold Pouteau