Love in the Time of Cholera: War, Peace & Parrots


    Gabriel Garcia Marquez died at age 87 on April 17.  The New York Times called him the “Magus of Magical Realism” in an obituary penned by noted literary critic Michiko Kakutani.

    It seems an appropriate time to revisit my recent post about Love in the Time of Cholera, a novel about love, passion, life, death and time.

      While the choleric anger of petty rage inflames ego-driven wars to ravage the countryside and population of an unknown Central American nation, a doctor, his wife and the man who has loved her for decades spend their days involved in their own lives.  Sheltered from the country’s wars by wealth.  Suffused with longing.  Having an astounding amount of sex.  Love in the TIme of Cholera, published in 1985 by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is at times a study of frustration, devotion, persistence, ambition, betrayal, forgiveness, obsession.  It is a novel of life and yet the author warned readers of Love, “not to fall into my trap.”  He also told the New Yorker that the book is based on the love story of his own parents. Fermina, the daughter of a successful but disreputable business man, falls desperately in love with beak-nosed, skinny Florentino, a man without resources other than his ability to write really hot letters.  Fermina’s father forbids the relationship and thus the love grows, desperately, until one day Fermina runs smack into Florentino and decides the Garcia Marquez equivalent of:  Ugh.  What have I been thinking.  Frankly, his description sounds rather crow-life (and not nearly as good-looking as Javier Bardem who played him in the 2008 movie), yet despite all that, Florentino becomes rather the Don Juan and Wilt Chamberlain of his time and place, devoting the next 51 years to satisfying every woman within reach (including his 14 year old ward) while reveling in his own unrequited love.

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  Because you see, Dr. Juvenal Urbino takes as his wife Fermina and they what Juvenal believes to be happily ever after.  Until he falls off a ladder trying to return his pet parrot to its cage (not a spoiler because this happens in the first few pages).   Ah, such is life.  Florentino then must try to take advantage of Fermina’s sudden availability to requite the love that has delightfully tortured him for the past five decades.  “Fermina,” he said, “I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.” The book is dazzlingly full of brilliant natural descriptions, the confusion of human emotions, of journeys.  The book is perhaps, most importantly, a metaphor for life. For your book club, I suggest a South American menu, including (and perhaps most importantly) a drink called a Pisco Sour.  Pisco is a brandy common to Peru and Chile and this drink is delicious.  There are harder ways of making it:  whipping the egg whites, folding them in bit by bit, etc. but this recipe works:

4 cups ice cubes
1 cup pisco
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup white sugar
1 egg white
aromatic bitters
1. Place ice cubes, pisco, lemon juice, sugar, egg white, and bitters in the bowl of a blender. Blend on high speed until finely pureed. Pour into two glasses and garnish with an additional dash of bitters.

I would add a warm wild rice salad with fresh julienned vegetables and spicy popcorn shrimp, some guacamole with blue corn chips and a Tres Leches cake for dessert.  I have not tried this recipe, so I’m simply giving you the link to the all recipes page. Music:  oh this is way too easy, I know, but iTunes and Amazon actually sell the soundtrack for the Love in the Time of Cholera movie.  And if you want something sexier, try mixing Shakira, Enrique Iglesias and Frank Sinatra. 1920s_valentine_kiss_retro_art_beverage_coasters-re95e368b14ad424d85fba372ca135ad6_ambkq_8byvr_512

The Woman Upstairs: Rage, Rejection and A Plot Twist You See Coming Halfway Through the Novel


She is angry, and why not?  Her mother died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, she works as an elementary school teacher but wants to be an artist, she just turned forty-two and she’s in love with three people, none of whom love her in return.  On the opening page of The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud’s latest novel, Nora Eldridge tells us just how furious she is:  “It was supposed to say ‘Great Artist’ on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say ‘such a good teacher/daughter/friend’ instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL.”

Sheesh, Nora.  When you start a novel that way, it seems it would be difficult to build any tension over the succeeding 300 pages.  Much like Frank Underwood killing that dog within the first two minutes of the first episode of House of Cards.  The subtlety of  foreshadowing is lost on both counts.  Ultimately, both The Woman Upstairs and the House of Cards ask, and answer, the timeless question:  What would you do for . . .?  Art in the case of Messud’s novel.  Power, or course, in the House of Cards.


But back to Nora.  Michiko Kakutani calls it a mash-up of Chekhov and “Single White Female.”(  There’s a tendency among current novelists to disregard the need for a likable, or even sympathetic, protagonist.  And as much as Nora wants to be “a good girl, a nice girl, a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl . . . (who is) good at (her) job and great with kids,” I didn’t really care what happened to her.  She helps an artist friend construct their own version of Wonderland and then Nora, much like Alice, completely loses her way among the double-speaking Jabberwocky, falsely smiling Cheshire cats and the ubiquitous, multiply-referenced aspirin flowers.  (An aside, Frank Underwood style:  Boyoyboy does Claire Messud like her aspirin flower creations.)

The writing is intriguing, though, and the three Shahids — the father, the son and the Holy Ghost of a mother/artist — with the-woman-upstairs_originalwhom Nora is in love are at times interesting.

But the plot twist screams itself halfway through the novel and for the remainder of the book I was waiting for the reveal that I knew was coming.  And it did.

In all, The Woman Upstairs didn’t reveal anything ground-breaking about human nature, the current society, art or artists.  To say much more would reveal the entire plot and I won’t should you choose to read it.  But is it really revolutionary to know that artists will do  anything for their art just like politicians, like the fictional Frank Underwood and the all-too-real Chris Christies of our world, will do anything for their own advancement?  But what a Mad Hatter Frank Underwood would make.

A book club menu would include coffee and red wine served in chipped coffee cups with pastries purchased from a nearby cafe placed on the table in wax paper.  That’s all I seem to remember being consumed in the novel.  But if you want a recipe, here’s my favorite Butternut Squash Soup.  It has nothing to do with the book, but I’m making a batch right now.

Peel butternut squash.  I use a chef’s knife, cut the throat off and stand it on end and slice the thick outer covering away then chop up the neck first.  Then take the round bottom and find a way to remove the peel.  Here’s a handy primer:

Place the cut squash in a stock pot, and pour in enough chicken broth to reach the top of the squash.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil then put a top on the pot, and reduce the heat to allow a low simmer.  Cook for about 20-30 minutes, until squash is tender.  Turn off the heat, allow to cool.  Place the squash mixture in a blender and blend under creamy and smooth.  At this point, you have all kinds of options.  When you reheat it (slowly), you can add cream, half and half or milk.  I generally add nutmeg, brown sugar and ginger.  Today I’m going to try using molasses and honey instead.

Music is maybe a little more fun:

Pink Floyd’s The Wall (widely believed to synchronize with the Disney Alice in Wonderland movie)

The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love c.d. (the entire c.d. is a concept album, rock opera/fairy tale and the haunting, sometimes creepy, overwrought music should be a nice accompaniment to a discussion of what would you do for art.