I was eighteen when I heard Margaret Atwood tell an interviewer that none of the details of daily life in her patriarchal dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale—the militarized religious state, the religiously-prescribed and ritualized rape, the policed pregnancy, the enforced prostitution, the absence of basic human autonomy—were made up. These, Atwood asserted in her deadpan, deal-with-it delivery, were all things that had taken place sometime, somewhere in human history, that in some cases were taking place as she spoke.
A s a child, I ventured almost every year to British Columbia’s Southern Gulf Islands and I became fascinated with the history of the places I visited there. It wasn’t so much the tangible traces that intrigued me—the skeleton of a building or a scrap washed up upon the tide line—as the absences and spaces that punctuate the islands. I noticed even then that we referred to the Gulf Islands and their geographies by the Spanish and English names given to them by European explorers and settlers, while pre-existing Coast Salish names for the same places often did not appear on maps.
I stood under a cloudless sky near the peak of Mont Fort, at Verbier, Switzerland, staring at the glaciers of Grand Combin, which shone like starched sheets. Mont Fort is one of the steepest ski runs in Europe. Most of the people who came up on the tram went back down on it. My friend Ken and I had come to Europe to ski and escape ourselves. We were in our fifties, a shadowy decade. Looking down at the canton of Valais, I felt a combination of exhilaration and fear and simple awe. The world laid out, endless in its possibilities. Though the price was a treacherous descent.
Friends came to stay with us recently. Among their suitcases and belongings, they had a cute, quilted shoulderbag, which they plunked on the kitchen countertop. Out came sleeves of aluminum pods, each one a pre-ground single-portion serving of coffee. Then a milk frother. And finally the Pixie, a sleek, pint-sized machine. It turned out this was a smaller version of what they use at home, the Citiz and Milk. The Pixie, my friend explained, a tad embarrassed, was their travel-sized Nespresso machine. It accompanied them on road trips.
The new film Oz the Great and Powerful arrived proclaiming it as the work of “the producer of Alice in Wonderland.” And so it goes in Hollywood, where L. Frank Baum and Lewis Carroll can be elbowed aside by the guy who made the Young Guns movies. That guy in question is Joe Roth, a veteran producer who’s had some of the biggest hits of his career in the last three years with a series of ‘adult’ takes on classic children’s stories such as Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland and Snow White and the Huntsman.
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