Inside a Giant Puzzle

I love mazes, I always have – they represent a manifestation of those puzzles and games I’ve always played in games, computers and in story books. It’s not often I get to see one, I’ve probably been through about four mazes in my life so far (and one of them was a really rubbish one at Disneyland which was more aimed for small children rather than my lumbering feet).

I’m still on the look-out for more mazes around the UK (I don’t think I’m ready for the World’s Biggest Maze yet, though), but I am looking forward to wandering around some life-size puzzles and discovering the secrets behind the hedges (sounds like a rubbish teen horror book, doesn’t it).

If you haven’t been to a maze and would like to in the future, I will give you some warning – if you get lost it can become very frustrating, tiring and boring to wander around in circles! Try and keep a sense of your direction (eg. walk north, walk towards the sun etc) and try not to get too confused!

mazeAlso part of this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Journal Your Ramadan – Day #14: Now Playing

I’m not really playing any games at the moment (I do like to play computer games every now and then, or just mobile phone ones), and I’m partial to my board games, but I haven’t really been playing anything recently.

So I thought I would just show a picture of what I would LIKE to be playing, since it’s been years. I used to play chess more often when I was younger (we bought a glass set for my eldest sister years ago because we all played it so much) – I have no idea whether we were playing by the right rules, and we probably cheated a little, but it was still fun.

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Oh, and in case you have tuned in recently and weren’t aware of my Lego obsession, I’ve been having a bit of fun with these as well. Here’s a picture of some Lego, seeing as it’s been a while. These are some Star Wars-themed Lego key rings I bought a while ago, the Darth Vader one is the one I carry around at the moment (and has been nibbled on quite a few times by my niece now), and the Darth Maul one I gave to a friend. There’s something very cool about them both, even though they’re only about three inch high, they’re still mean and proud.

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Love, Graphics and Slavery in ‘Habibi’

Habibi, by Craig Thompson, is a novel with a difference. Not just because it is a beautifully drawn graphic novel, full of layers of subtle meanings, stories-within-stories and a depiction of society, but also because of the ingenious way the artist weaves together the life of a young slave woman’s, Dodola, with that of a chance meeting with another, slave child named Zam, whose own life is shaped just as he shapes hers.

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Thompson, then, begins20121111_134856 a story which, although not conventionally happy, becomes one which is beautifully moving and extremely easy to engage with. We follow Dodola from her poor and unfortunate beginnings of being sold by her parents to be a wife at the age of six, and from there, her life does not get any better – kidnapped, sold into slavery and rounded up until she meets Zam, a toddler with whom she runs away with to look after.

From there, we see plenty of layers, of love, of slavery, of being gender roles and of being a possession. Thompson does not shy away from the brutality of sex, as well as the hardships of being a slave, of being poor and of course, of being a woman.

Dodola, then, becomes almost an archetype for almost every role a woman can assume – mother, sister, daughter, wife, slave, prostitute, and even food-bringer, as she shrugs off her hardships and her past to try her best to survive, and of course, bring up Zam.

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Throughout the novel, we see both character’s roles, personality and even relationship change, which has a tragic effect on both Zam and Dodola. This is particularly emphasised as Thompson combines modern realities such as coming to terms with your own identity and sexuality, with older-fashioned values such as trading for food, the life of a slave and the realities of  being a woman, being black or being poor.

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Just as we see Dodola’s concerns in bringing up her adopted child, however, we see Zam’s (whose name is no accident, originating from Zamzam water, a holy well situated in Mecca), anxieties in his own role as a man.

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And that is not to say that the story focuses purely on these characters, as Thompson weaves in beautiful architecture in the Middle East combined with the grimy, poor dwellings of the rest of the country. Stories of King Soloman, the Queen of Sheba and Islamic number based puzzles are weaved in as parables to mirror Dodola’s dilemmas and concerns, as well the history of the country, different plans in the city, and the environmental concerns of current society.

And it is no accident that there is a motif of story-telling, calligraphy, writing and drawing throughout the story, artist points not only to the graphic form of the novel, but also the centuries old form of telling stories, writing and recording history, and in a way, recording our identities. Thompson does not leave20121112_125713 a topic untouched, yet this does not feel messy, everything is weaved in beautifully and depicted in seriously beautiful, detailed drawings.

I particularly also liked the architectural drawings in the story, which ranges from ships and small towns to beautifully regal palaces and gardens, and back again to shanty towns and rubbish filled waste-grounds. Again, Thompson points out the range of cities and it’s environments through these encounters – the danger of pollution, the apathy of its citizens and the excess carelessness of the rich are all movingly captured – one sub-plot which struck me was a fisherman who catches rubbish from the sea every day, never getting a fish and yet remaining happy until he has a breakdown – which is surely symbolic of the Earth slowly killing itself with pollution in a truly depressing scene.

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As each scene and circumstance changes, it is no accident that the characters change and adapt with them – Dodola changes from young innocent girl to a teenage thrifter to a harem woman and still goes beyond this, just as Zam’s identity anxieties take him on his own adventures.

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While I though this novel was brilliant, some readers may be put off by the amount of sexual content in this novel, which is never crude but does seep into a lot of its chapters and scenes, and can feel unrealistic. When reading this, while I felt sympathy for Dodola’s character, I also felt it was depressing to see that she is constantly measured by her worth as a woman, and how she can satisfy men sexually. While I’m sure that this is Thompson’s intent, to show that she is objectified to the extent that this defines her above all else, it is sad to see that she is constantly seen as a sexual object by all the characters in this book, which is only stressed by the fact that she is the only female character in this novel and essentially is alone in any type of sisterhood, motherhood or any other positive, female relationships.

Without revealing too much, there are certainly some twists in the novel which changes the initial outlook on not only Middle Eastern society, but the rest of the world and its history in general by the time you reach the end. While the ending itself is ambiguous, it is not a sad one and there is certainly a note of hope by the end of it, although it one which has taken a hard journey to get to. Thompson has done a great job with this novel, and one which is full of beautiful illustrations, poignant meaning and amazing symbolism which is weaved together cleverly – it’s certainly made me want to look out for his other work.20121112_231253

The Girl in the Red in The Maze of Wonders

Featuring: My niece as The Girl in Red (special thanks to her)

One of the fun attractions at Leeds Castle was the deceivingly confusing maze, I’ve always loved mazes and puzzles, and I’ve always wanted to go in a proper one (seeing as the last one I went to was a really rubbish one in Disneyland which involved everyone just following the next person over hedges that was just ankle-high). And before you ask, it’s not cos of the maze scene at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Although that didn’t hurt either.
So it was great fun wandering around with the sisters and the niece, with all of us shouting out different ‘directions’ and er, trying not to cheat. Thank goodness it was a sunny day too, although we did worry about those mysterious puddles we found.

Looking at these pictures reminds me of those role-player maze games where you just keep clicking til you either find a door or get hopelessly lost. Or get eaten by a troll.

I also look like a bit of a stalker with these pictures but I swear I’m not. I mean, wasn’t. Oh, you know what I  mean.

Oohh, I think we’re getting a bit lost…(we were stuck in this maze for about an hour after laughingly saying it looked too easy. Fools that we were.)

Ooh! There she is! Let’s follow her!

Follow the follow the follow the girl in the red coat…

Eeeek! Dead end! Back to square one. Grrrr.
(By this point it was looking a lot less easier than when we first went in. I’m pretty sure there are skeletons in some dead-ends, or at least, some koalas nibbling on lost foreigners )

Okay let’s keep going, she looks a bit more sure this time…

Look! I sense the end in sight! Run, run girl in red, look at those fools going the wrong way!

Yaaaaaaayyy! There’s a rocky grotto to climb at the end of the maze. Now peer down and  laugh at all those fools still walking around blindly. No, not me, don’t point at me. Oh, fine.

We tried to cheat a bit (just a teeny bit) by trying to ask some of the people in the middle to guide us…but none of them could see us jumping up and down and asking for help. So we had to do it the long and boring honest way, and found our way at the end of the maze after a lot of whinging and going around in circles some good navigation and team work.

I think one of the things I loved best of all about the maze was just how neat and square all the hedges look. Even though I’ve never had a hedge in my front or back garden in my life, I can still appreciate a nice bit of greenery. Y’know?

Definitely worth a visit and a good wander around the maze if you ever decide to visit the Castle!