Oscar Wao has made me realize that Dominicans have not been on my radar. I'm going to use living in Anchorage as my excuse, though we have Dominicans and I recall a long conversation with someone from Dominica, but I really hadn't ever concentrated on the Dominican Republic and its culture(s) ever before.
And I'll use Oscar Wao as the beginning of a new awareness. Yes, I knew about the Dominican Republic and Trujillo, and Dominican baseball players. I knew that there are trees on the Dominican side of the border with Haiti. But Oscar grabbed me hard and pulled me deep into the Chabral family and its story.
Díaz was given the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for Oscar Wao. I didn't know anything about the book or Díaz before reading the book and am only just now getting my first glimpse (other than what the book itself suggests) as I'm writing this post. It's a surprisingly original piece of writing and that it got the National Book Award and the Pulitzer is also a pleasant surprise. It would have been interesting to sit and listen to their discussions on the book. Here's a short paragraph from an MIT News article on Díaz and the book (Díaz is a professor at MIT):
Díaz spent 11 years writing the tale of Oscar Wao — a Spanish pronunciation of Oscar Wilde — a teenage Dominican who buries his broken heart and frustration in sci-fi novels and Star Trek action figures. Oscar's family lives much as Díaz' own family did, the author has said, balancing two lives, two cultures, in New Jersey and their native Dominican Republic.
I fell asleep as Oscar's grandfather's well-respected and comfortable life came crashing down with his arrest and torture by Trujillo and when I woke up I moved on to New Jersey in the Clinton years. I'm still too involved in the book to write with any perspective, but I've been surprised (yes, the book is constantly surprising me) by the way Díaz tells one story, then suddenly you plunge down another layer of complexity in your understanding of Oscar. And I'm surprised by the sparkle of the unique (at least in modern American fiction) voice that tells this story.
As we circled from the ocean (I only know this from past flights because today you could only see clouds) to downtown LA, we could see some gaps through to the land.
Then back toward the airport and thicker cloud cover, to finally break through over the San Diego freeway.
By the time we got the shuttle to the bus station and were on our way to my mom's, the sun was destroying the invading clouds. We walked the 20 minutes from the bus stop to my mom's street - just carry on makes this doable - and then I saw a paper posted to one of the Italian Stone Pines that line the street. There have been terrible root problems buckling the street in the past, but that's been taken care of, for the time being anyway. But I wondered, since I saw signs on other trees, what the city had in mind for these trees. But the sign was about something totally different - local coyotes.
My mom's had problems with possums and racoons, but coyotes in the past were limited to the more natural areas in the hills. I later talked to a neighbor who had seen two coyotes the other night on the next door neighbor's lawn. We decided J needed to do her after dinner walk before dusk. Even so, she took a stick. She saw lots of other people out walking, but no coyotes.
Later I read a story in the LA Times about skunks taking up residence at Dodger stadium.
But I didn't know that when we saw the amaryllis blooming past their prime in my mom's front yard. Even though I wasn't near them, I could imagine their delicious sweet scent.
When I tried to find something about amaryllis online, I discovered that there were some people who can't stand the scent. I don't like the scent of most lilies, but these pink amaryllis have a wonderful scent, enhanced probably, because they evoke my childhood. Some others like the scent.
"Amaryllis belladonna brings scent and color to the garden when it is least expected. After its leaves die back in midsummer, it sends up a bare 18-inch tall stalk topped with fragrant pink trumpet-shaped flowers, hence the common name, naked ladies. Amaryllis belladonna is a drought-tolerant plant native to South Africa, great for hot dry spots in the garden. It is long blooming, attractive to butterflies, and lovely as a cut flower." [from Great Plant Picks]It did occur to me that this is a rather eclectic post that could have been several posts all by themselves. But as i thought about it, I realized that this is more reflective of life - where things happen, intertwined with other things. And to me the juxtaposition of the coyote notice and the article on skunks and the fragrance of the Amarylis is meaningful in a way that seeing each as a unique isolated post would be. And the backdrop of a comfortable Southern California setting is shadowed by the life of Oscar's grandfather who was suddenly snatched from his life as a wealthy doctor by Trujillo's police, tortured, and thrown into a filthy prison for the rest of his life. We don't appreciate the wonders of a life where one expects that law and order is the norm and people can expect their lives won't be arbitrarily disrupted because of the whims of a psychopathic dictator.
But then not everyone has such an expectation in the US. Parents of black young men fear arbitrary violence done to their sons every day. Parents of young women of any race, if they know the statistics, would be less comfortable. I wonder whether sometimes those of us who are not confronted with these realities regularly, tend to dismiss the experiences of other people because we don't want to believe our lives are less secure than we think. And in denying the pleas of kids who are bullied or women who are beaten by their intimate partners or raped, and people whose skin color or 'look' causes them to be stopped by the police more often, we deny justice for them and make our own lives less secure. It takes a good government, not a private sector, to provide such safety and security to all. The private sector can do other things well, but only the wealthy can afford to hire their own security guards, and if the society as a whole isn't reasonably safe, the security guards offer more a sense of security than real security.