Aug. 24, 2008

In the Park

by G.E. Johnson

We walked along Central Park West and at 65th
We turned into the dark where horse carriages
Clip-clopped along and late night strollers drifted
By and we sat on a bench set in shadowy foliage
And there you nestled so perfectly at my left side,
Your head on my shoulder against my cheek,
My arm around you, and there you reclined,
And we talked in the dark and then we didn't speak.
Your body and mine fit so comfortably. I put
My hand against the side of your lovely head
And we sat peacefully merged from head to foot,
Wrapped in one thought that didn't need to be said.
         And then we walked away. I remember we kissed
         On the corner of 76th and Central Park West. 1989

"In The Park" by G. E. Johnson. Read with permission of the author.

It's the birthday of the writer Oscar Hijuelos, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1951. His parents were immigrants from Cuba, and his father supported the family by working in a hotel. Hijuelos went through the New York public schools, he went to City University, and then he got a job working in an advertising office. At night, he would write fiction, and he began to publish short stories. And slowly, story by story, he started to win grants and fellowships that gave him more time to write. He published the novel Our House in the Last World (1983), and then five more novels, including The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989), and all of them are stories of Cuban-American life. Mambo Kings won the Pulitzer Prize, which made Hijuelos the first Latino novelist to receive that honor.

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love opens:
"It was a Saturday afternoon on La Salle Street, years and years ago when I was a little kid, and around three o'clock Mrs. Shannon, the heavy Irish woman in her perpetually soup-stained dress, opened her back window and shouted out into the courtyard, 'Hey, Cesar, yoo-hoo, I think you're on television, I swear it's you!'"

It's the birthday of novelist Paulo Coelho, (books by this author) born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1947. He said, "I always knew that my Personal Legend, to use a term from alchemy, was to write." But it took him a long time to get there. His father was a professional engineer, and Coelho's parents assumed that he would pursue a respectable career and go to law school. When he refused and announced that he wanted to become a writer instead, his parents committed him to a mental hospital where he went through electroshock therapy. He ran away from home and joined the counterculture revolution; he traveled through South America, North Africa, Mexico, and Europe. In Europe, Coelho met a man who became his spiritual mentor and convinced him in 1985 to walk the 500-mile Camino de Santiago, a famous pilgrimage across Spain that pilgrims have been traveling since the Middle Ages. That trip was a turning point for Coelho because until then he had spent his life searching for the secrets of the universe. But on that pilgrimage, he says he "realized that there are no secrets. Life is and will always be a mystery." He wrote the novel The Pilgrimage (1987) about his experiences.

The next year, Paulo Coelho wrote The Alchemist (1988), an inspirational allegory based on "Tale of Two Dreamers" by Jorge Luis Borges, which in turn is based on a tale from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. The Alchemist didn't sell very well and Coelho's publisher decided not to reprint it, but he kept writing and moved to a new publishing house, and his third novel, Brida (1990), was a success, which made The Alchemist popular also. Then HarperCollins published The Alchemist in the United States, and it became a huge best seller. The Alchemist has sold 30 million copies.

Coelho has gone on to write numerous international best sellers, including By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept (1994) and Manual of a Warrior of Light (1997), and his books have sold more than 100 million copies.

Paulo Coelho said, "The wise are wise only because they love. The fool are fools only because they think they can understand love."

It's the birthday of poet, essayist, and short-story writer Jorge Luis Borges, (books by this author) born in 1899 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1937, Borges got a job as a cataloguer at the municipal library, but it was boring work and he was too fast at it. His colleagues wanted to spread out the work as much as possible, so they actually forbade him from cataloguing more than 100 books per hour. He ended up spending most of his time in the basement writing short stories, and it was during this time that he produced the books of short stories that he is best known for: The Garden of Forking Paths (1941) and an expanded version, Ficciones (1944).

Borges wrote: "Through the years, a man peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, tools, stars, horses, and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face."

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