Short Story Dispensers Aim to Dispense with Unproductive Waiting Time in Grenoble

Screenshot from a spot by the French news channel M6

Last week Konbini, the online magazine dedicated to popular culture, featured a short story (the nonfiction kind) on the French city of Grenoble, so-called capital of the French Alps. In a collaboration between the city council and the French publishing company Short Édition, certain public spaces that frequently feature waiting time–libraries, the post office, the tourist center–have been equipped with short story dispensers.

After pressing a button to select between one-, three-, and five-minute stories, a long strip of paper is printed from the kiosk and the user can enjoy a piece of short fiction from Continue reading

Of Rains and Communist Reading Rooms

View of the approaching storm from our Xandari Riverscapes houseboat.

View of the approaching storm on Vembanad Lake, from a Xandari Riverscapes houseboat.

Monsoon rains in Kerala – the greatest drama I’ve ever watched. They tick everything on Aristotle’s checklist for a good play. A country dried by summer and hoping on a good ending makes for a decent plot. Meet the characters. A thick blanket of menacing grey, humid air hugging skin. Gusty winds that uproot trees and power lines, darkness that comes calling even before night. And the stellar spectacle of a finale – prayers, predictions, and calculations answered in silvery drops. Stunning, stinging, and relieving all at once.

Writing this while watching blue and grey jostle in the skies, the earth still smelling of the last rain (petrichor is the word), I am reminded of the book I’m reading now. One that is as old as me, one befitting the best season in India. Alexander Frater’s Chasing the Monsoon.

“As a romantic ideal, turbulent, impoverished India could still weave its spell, and the key to it all – the colours, the moods, the scents, the subtle, mysterious light, the poetry, the heightened expectations, the kind of beauty that made your heart miss a beat – well, that remained the monsoon.”
Alexander Frater, Chasing the Monsoon

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An Abundant Life

I recently read an essay in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Living to 100 and Beyond.”  As I read about the technology that is rapidly increasing human longevity, the movie Death Becomes Her began replaying in my mind.  I imagined myself following in Meryl Streep’s and Goldie Hawn’s footsteps and taking some magic potion that makes me immortal.  However, instead of the body deteriorating with age like the Streep and Hawn rivalry, advances in modern technology will likely not only increase life span but also health spans.   Living for centuries may seem appealing on the surface, but we should consider the overall effects of a longer life.

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Ramírez, Reading & Responsibility

The presenter introduced Sergio Ramírez with all the formal flourish that the Spanish language provides for; a laudatory salute that seems unique to places where poets serve as public servants.  The presenter mentioned the publications Ramírez has contributed to; the number of his essays, short stories, and novels; told of his political history and his creation of Nicaraguan publications and organizations of reform. The presenter was obviously very proud of having such an influential man in the room, and finally said, “I give you, author, poet, thinker, ex-president Sergio Ramírez!”

(c) Overdue Media LLC, used with permission

The man who has given talks at over forty academic institutions around the world (including Cornell University) took the podium. “Thank you for the very generous introduction,” he started.  And what he said next illustrates the difference between poets and politicians. Continue reading

Nicaraguan 1st Graders Book It to 25wpm

The José Dolores Estrada School, named after one of the military heroes who fought against William Walker’s army in the mid-1800s, is located only five or six kilometers away from Morgan’s Rock. JDE is a small public school with three teachers and around sixty to seventy students (the numbers vary widely each year or even by semester) that sit in mixed-grade classrooms to learn from whatever textbooks become available. On the walls, hand-made posters read, “What is a fable?” or give the definition of “traba-lenguas” (tongue-twisters) along with several examples. Cut-outs of volcanoes, whales, and ducks rest above a student’s project on “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.”

The three teachers responsible for the colorful and educational decorations came with José Tomás Gómez Valdivia (Nicafrance Foundation) and other teachers from La Cumplida for three days in Managua to attend the congress. I joined the delegation in their final day of sharing and learning and took notes on the conferences.

“The Situation of Reading in Nicaragua and Initiatives for Improvement” was the title of the first talk that José Tomás and I attended (the teachers went to whatever conference or workshop was most interesting or valuable to them). It was given by Vanessa Castro, a PhD from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dr. Castro has worked alongside the World Bank, IADB, UNESCO, and AED, and is now one of the leading investigators for the Nicaraguan group CIASES (Centro de Investigación y Acción Educativa).  Continue reading

Latin America Reads

Several hundred teachers sporting green canvas bags filled an auditorium at the Central American University (UCA) of Managua. The bags bore the Nicaragua Lee (Nicaragua Reads) and International Reading Association logos under the inscription, “Cantar Palabras, Dibujar Textos,” or, “Sing Words, Draw Texts.” A large banner across the top of the stage welcomed teachers to the eleventh Latin American and second National Congresses on Reading. The teachers were mostly from Nicaragua and Central America, but many South American countries, as well as Puerto Rico and USA, were also represented.

I was there accompanying the delegations from schools supported by Fundación Nicafrance. As I mentioned in a previous post, this foundation sponsors schools with other members of its social enterprise network: Morgan’s Rock Hacienda & Ecolodge, La Cumplida/Cafetalera Nicafrance, and Exportadora Atlantic, S.A. These are all intertwined with the Simplemente Madera Group.

The great highlight of the day’s proceedings was the eagerly-awaited arrival of Sergio Ramírez, who was vice-president of Nicaragua just after the revolution (86-90) and is probably the most celebrated poet and author of Central America since Ruben Dario, who still has a historic importance to Nicaraguan culture. Scores of teachers had copies of his latest book, La fugitiva, which they would ask him to sign at the end of his speech about the importance of reading to future generations of Nicaraguan society. This tall man and his deliberating voice, which rang across the auditorium, actually inspired me to wait in line and ask him to sign my shirt. This was the first time I’d ever asked someone for their autograph.

To find out why I had my shirt signed rather than a piece of paper or a Congress program (see the first link for an Excel sheet), stay tuned for the latter of my next two posts about this Congress and what I learned about the state of Nicaraguan literacy today.