A Christmas Story – Part One

By Nora Vasconcelos

christmas

James leaned his head towards the sliding doors of the subway wagon he was traveling on.

It was only then when he noticed a man wearing a Santa Claus suit. This made him feel worst.

Being fired hadn’t been bad enough. The company had waited until the last minute, on Christmas day, to let him know that he was no longer an employee of Sweets & Snacks.

“Don’t take it personal, Jimmie. With all these people going on a diet, and the new laws and taxes discouraging people from buying products like ours, we have to downsize the company if we want to give enough money to our Research and Development department,  so they can come up with new sweets and snacks that fit into these new trends. Besides, you had mentioned that you wanted to take some time off to spend it with your family. Look at this as an opportunity to make it up to them.”

James knew they were right, but he just couldn’t understand how he was the only one chosen to go. He tought things were going okay, more than okay!

He had put on many extra hours all the year, getting the financial department in working order, after the previous manager had left the company with a self-paid ‘bonus’.

With nobody noticing it, 8,000 dollars had ‘disappeared’ from the petty cash box. It was only until James started working in the company, 12 months ago that, little by little, he put together all the pieces of the puzzle, noticing the frecuent visits the manager made to the cash area, with silly excuses such as a parking fine, when everybody new he walked from his apartment to the office, or those tickets for takeaway orders at late hours, when no pizza nor chinese packages were anywhere to be seen the following morning.

One day, in December last year, James arrived to the office thinking it’d be business as usual, until he saw the manager going out of the director’s office, ushered by two very tall and strong police officers. On his way out, he looked at James and yield at him ‘you’ll pay for this, Jimmie. I swear to it.’

Next thing he knew, he was the new manager. The big boss had offered him a nice pay raise and an office with a magnificent view of the new fashionable tall buildings in the city.

Then, his job became his whole life, and his office, his new home. James worked over Christmas and New Year’s. He also missed all the birthays and school events of his three kids, and his wife got tired of listening to him saying ‘I’ll make it up to you.’

Twelve months later, when the financial deparment was operating under a new set of standards and procedures, and the company had recovered not only the money stolen by the previous manager, but had got a very nice profit, despite the new trends in the market, James thought that he’d finally have time to spend with his family, and with his Christmas bonus he would take his wife on a wonderful trip around Europe, all the main shopping malls included.

It was then when all went wrong. All of a sudden he found himself without a job, leaving the building with his dreams broken and a silly check that hardly covered a month of his salary. ‘This are tough times, Jimmie,’ his ex-boss’ words resounded in his head.

‘Luckily’ he’d been allowed to take his things with him, all awkwardly positioned inside a cardboard box that the day before had contained some of the monthly supplies of paper for the copy machine.

An ordinary letter of recommendetion was part of the stuff he had filled the box with, along with several photos of his wife and kids, and some brochures that a travel agent had given to him a few days before, with all sort of European tours.

Of course, he had to return the company car; so, now, he was riding the subway. And here he was, with his head leaning on the sliding doors, watching the man disguised as Santa Claus.

How was he going to tell his wife and kids that he had been fired?, he wondered.

He took his sight apart from Santa, and looked intensely toward the railway. All inside the tunnel was dark. The only light that he could see came from the train.

Then a strange thought crossed his mind …what if?  He shivered.

He turned his face back and saw Santa playing with a little girl, they both were laughing. Memories of the happy times with his family took over his mind. Then, that somber idea crossed his mind again …what if?

He contemplated the idea for a little longer this time. After all, he’d become a stranger now, his family might as well be better without him. At least they would have the insurance money.

Then, the unexpected happened. The sliding doors opened when the train was traveling at a high speed between two stations.

James was expelled of the wagon with such violence that not even strong and magical Santa could hold onto his legs on his efforts to bring him back into the train.

While flying away towards the immense oscurity of the tunnel, people on the train could listen to James calling out for help, screaming with his voice full of terror: I don’t want to die!

* * *

To be continued next week  :) 

 

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Made in México

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By Nora Vasconcelos

In the second half of the 19th century, José María Velasco enchanted the world with his paintings in which he depicted with precise detail the landscapes of the Valley of México and the outskirts of the Mexican capital.

His studies at the San Carlos Academy, under the guidance of the Italian artist Eugenio Landesio, his deep interest in science, and his encounter with the French Impressionist, combined in a way that he was able to bring alive colourful scenes of the Mexican Landscape.

Velasco did that with such detail that many of his paintings have been the base for the study of the geography and botanic that existed in central México before buildings and houses cover this territory.

His profound love and observation of his country are something that it’s admired up to these days.

His art is just one of the many wonderful things Made in México.

As it is its history and culture, which have been recognized by Unesco. Nowadays, México has the largest number of World Heritage Sites in the Americas, and it’s placed seventh in the world. Part of this list includes the archaeological zones of  Chichen Itza, Palenque, El Tajin and Teotihuacan, as well as the city centres of Mexico city, Guanajuato and Morelia.

Modern architects such as Luis Barragán, Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Ricardo Legorreta and Teodoro González de León contributed to design the new capital city, bringing strong firm colours to structures that are easily identifiable around the world as Mexican design. Along them, painters such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and writers like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Carlos Fuentes y Octavio Paz, have gotten high recognition around the world.

Unesco has also designated Mexican cuisine as ‘intangible cultural heritage’. And if course it impossible not to mention the production of Tequila and Mezcal, coveted all around the world. Guacamole and great coffee, are also Made in México.

So, as José María Velasco did in his time, nowadays we can admire México for all its greatness, having in mind that the same as bad things happen in this country, they happen in any other country, and México is a place full of beauty and hardworking people proud of their heritage.

 

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Books beyond seasons

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By Nora Vasconcelos

It’s almost the end of the year and as December approaches, I can’t be happier for all the great books I have had the chance to read in 2016. Some of them were new releases, some others were published some time ago; some were famous, some others, wonderful little gems which I’ve luckily come across.

There’s not really a particular order I’ve chosen to present them, it’s merely as they come to my mind. My biggest wish is that these books will bring to you as many delightful hours as they brought to me:

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. The magic of this book comes from combining a wonderful location with a very sweet love story and the fantastic presence of books all along the story as the ones that shape the life of all the main characters. If you like France, either because you’ve been there, or because you have the idea of this idyllic country, this is a perfect book for you as wonderful tender descriptions of Paris and the little towns along the main French rivers are presented here. The story will capture your mind from the first chapter when it takes the main characters to an unexpected but charming journey in which not only they will open up to share their deepest fears and dreams but also it will take you along for an introspective trip in which one main question hangs in the air: “what would I do if I found out decades later that I’ve been all wrong about love?”.

The Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier: I’ve got to read this book thanks to the kind recommendation of my good friend Andrew Hill. The story begins with an unexpected event that makes the main character decide to change his complete life at the age of 57. An inexplicable meeting and a unique book make him drop everything and go to the station to catch the night train to Lisbon. From there, his life will become something very different. Apart from falling in love with Lisbon, I found in this book some of the most wonderful quotes ever about life, books and traveling. This is my favorite one: “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”

A Strangeness in my Mind by Orhan Pamuk: Placed in Turkey, this book tells the story of a street vendor who sells a couple of traditional homemade products. The magic of this novel resides in how the story presents at the same time the changes that this country faces for many decades while the vendor grows up, from a little boy to an old man. Pamuk’s masterful way of writing offers the reader a majestic read in the simplest way, developing an easy-to-read novel based on a very complex topic.

The Phantom Ship by Frederick Marryat: Publish in 1839, this book can be read and enjoyed at any time as it takes the reader’s imagination to a fantastic journey in which the main character goes from ship to ship in order to break an old curse that affects him and his family. Even when some words have the feeling of old English, the skill of the author delivers a fast-paced, easy-to-read story that will absorb you from the beginning to the end. For ship lovers and people who love traveling to exotic lands and adventures, this is a perfect read.

The only street in Paris by Elaine Sciolino: This is not a work of fiction. It’s the result of an amazing work of investigative journalism combined with the delightful narrative of a New York Times correspondent who fell in love with the rhythm and lifestyle of a particular street in Paris, and out of her immense curiosity and skill as a journalist presents a series of interviews with the owners of the stores located along this street in the form of a delightful memoir/travelogue that makes the reader wish, chapter after chapter, to take the first plane to France and go straight from the airport to the Rue des Martyrs.

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Tiny

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Tiny

Short stories, complete new worlds packed into tiny containers

Recently EbookFriendly published this wonderful infographic as a reminder that “short stories may turn out to be the most effective tool of a revival of reading.” And gave six reasons to start reading a short story right now:

Benefits of reading short stories (infographic) | Ebook Friendly

Via Ebook Friendly

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Look at the Past to predict the Future

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By Nora Vasconcelos

If you live in London, or if you’re visiting the city, and don’t have any plans for this weekend, the 2016 London Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre is a fabulous option.

This year’s topic Living in Future Times celebrates the world’s most visionary writers and artists including H.G. Wells, Margaret Atwood, Richard Dawkins and David Bowie.

“In its tenth year, the festival rediscovers farsighted classics and examines how we are already living in an era predicted by Science Fiction,” says the Southbank Centre in a press release.

Some of the highlights of the Festival for this weekend are:

15 October: A day featuring the best international writers of sciencefiction including Hassan Blasim, Lauren Beukes, Xiaolu Guo and Cixin Liu.
15 & 16 October: Young Adult Literature Weekender offers more opportunities than ever before to the next generation of writers. Featuring the most exciting YA novelists, bloggers, vloggers, poets and spoken word artists from rising stars to legends of YA, such as Sara Barnard, Malorie Blackman, Holly Bourne, Juno Dawson, Sally Green, Sungju Lee, Hollie McNish and Harriet Reuter Hapgood.

16 October: In an exclusive preview event before publication, Naomi Alderman reads from her new novel The Power , telling the story of four girls and women who struggle against daily oppressions and sexism until one day they find their lives radically altered by the power to inflict lightning bolts of pain, and even death, at the flick of their fingers.

16 October: Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science, Marcus Du Sautoy offers insights into the boundaries of scientific understanding in a keynote address and asks if we are at the limits of knowledge.

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To close the 2016 London Literature Festival, the Literary Death Match, on 16 October, offers a comedyrich futuristic evening featuring four authors reading their most electric writing for seven minutes or less before a panel of three allstar judges. Two finalists compete in the Literary Death Match finale to decide the ultimate winner.

View of Southbank Centre credit Belinda Lawley
View of Southbank Centre credit Belinda Lawley

The Southbank Centre is the UK’s largest arts centre, occupying a 21 acre site that sits in the midst of London’s most vibrant cultural quarter on the South Bank of the Thames. The site has an extraordinary creative and architectural history stretching back to the 1951 Festival of Britain. Southbank Centre is home to the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery as well as The Saison Poetry Library and the Arts Council Collection. For further information please visit www.southbankcentre.co.uk

The world as a science fiction novel

“We are living in a time where the world looks more and more like a science fiction novel, and this year’s festival aims to explore that connection between the current day and the world predicted by far-sighted writers. The festival will explore how imagination and writing can give us a clearer insight into the world as it is now by exploring alternative worlds and alternative realities,” writes the Mayflower Collection on its blog.

London Literature Festival Image Courtesy Mayflower Colletion
Image Courtesy Mayflower Colletion

“From Shakespeare to Austen, Dickens to Rowling, Britain’s literary history is second to none … But rather than looking back into London’s literary history, this year’s theme (of the London Literature Festival) is all about looking forward, about Living in Future Times,” adds the blog.

The Mayflower Collection is a group of three boutique hotels in Central London. Founded in 1999, the Mayflower Collection offers stylish, design-led, 4-Star hotels in Earls Court and in the historic and trendy area of Notting Hill, a short walk from Hyde Park.

 

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Where the oceans meet

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By Nora Vasconcelos

Puerto Rico lays where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea intersect. This archipelago contains some of the most amazing landscapes any traveller can see, as well as rich architecture; centuries of history; Spanish, French and Caribbean culinary influences, and beautiful beaches.

All of this makes of Puerto Rico a really good destination for turists who want to relax and wander around historical sites.

Curious about it? This week, my good friend and mystery author, Jane Isaac, kindly published a guest post I wrote about lovely Puerto Rico.

You can read it here: (Puerto Rico: Where the oceans meet)

Jane is also launching soon her fourth book: Beneath the Ashes, which is ready for pre-order now. Don’t miss the chance to discover what new mysteryes DI Will Jackman will be called to investigate!

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