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All Roads Lead to Austen

All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane - Amy Elizabeth Smith Countries she visited: Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Child, Paraguay, Argentina. I had mixed feelings about the author at times, but I did like the mix of the book: experiences, impressions, literary discussions. On how you experience a culture you grow up in versus a non-native experience: “Before time and circumstances sent the Smith kids in different directions, we four spent many happy afternoons like millions of other youngsters raised in the sixties and seventies: playing Monopoly. ..Even in the Mexican version I’d bought, no game says “USA!” like Monopoly. … I hadn’t played in a good twenty years and needed to consult the rules, but it all came back pretty quickly. I explained to Diego the central challenge of the game: the need to buy property while retaining enough capital to develop it so that you can then bleed your opponents dry. …[Diego’s] distress changed to stunned denial the first time he landed on the Plaza de Liberacion with three houses. How on earth could the rent go from $20 to $750? Now the money that had drained from my stash into the bank began flowing from Diego’s stash back to mine. I had tried to explain the principle of investments and returns, but only cold hard reality could teach that lesson. When he counted out the crushing rent a second time, I held a hand flat out, palm up, signaling “gimme, gimme, gimme!” with my fingers – just like big brother Shawn would always do to my beleaguered siblings, so many years ago on the orange shag rug of our family den. Diego was crushed. Who was this woman, this cruel capitalist gringa, and what had she done with his bookish, impractical girlfriend?…For me, the game had been a wonderful trip down memory lane, bringing back rainy Pennsylvania afternoons, Velveeta sandwiches, Shawn’s maniacal laughter after each property acquisition, and debates over why the mice that visited the box at night only chewed the hundred dollar bills. None of these layers of memory were there for Diego as he’d watch me fuss over the precise arrangement of the houses multiplying in my tiny empire. And anyway, he could never catch up. … The second time he played Monopoly would be my forty-second; his fifth, my forty-fifth. “ p. 105-107“This group has been important for me, really important, over all these years. If you don’t fight for space in your life for art and conversation, so much will pass you by – for anybody, but especially for women, since we’re always taking care of others. My life is richer because of this group. “ She patted my hand with a wry smile. “That sounds sentimental, but it’s true.” From one of the groups in Ecuador. P. 164“Thank god for feisty women, rich or poor. Thank god for anyone who’ll fight for the right to sit down with a good book – and then, the right to sit down with some good friends and that good book.” P. 164“Immersion in a new culture can inspire huge changes, but so can reading. Any bookworm knows how a powerful book can motivate us toward major change. Give a woman an Austen novel and, if she takes it to heart, seriously takes it to heart, how will she behave? She’ll soul search about what she wants in a partner; she’ll evaluated how well she behaves toward her family; she’ll consider her role within the community and how well she treats people, no matter what their status in life; she’ll acknowledge the value of being true to herself, while respectful of others; she’ll go out dancing once in a while; maybe she’ll even learn to sew. “ p. 218On the visit to Paraguay, the poorest of the countries that she visited: Many major cities in S. America are ringed by what Old Hollywood referred to as “shanty towns,” but their reach is much more extended in Asuncion, with some dwellings near the river built onto the city sidewalks. While the downtown parks and squares are pleasant and nicely laid out, one was completely occupied by tents. The tenants there cooked, did their laundry, and generally went about their business as a form of protest against the unequal access to the country’s land: about 77% of the land in Paraguay is owned by 1% of the population.” Interesting – given our 99%/ Occupy movements of the past year. P. 262From a taxi driver in Paraguay. “This country used to be safe, you know,” Jose gave me a hard stare before returning his eyes to the road. “We had order around here…. You could walk the streets. Now there are criminals everywhere. And all this talk about ‘human rights.’” He spat out the last phrase as if it were something filthy. “Democracy. It just doesn’t work.”“Don’t you think there’s room for something between dictatorship and too much freedom? Some kind of middle ground?” I asked. He eyed me again. “Maybe,” he shrugged, but his tone said, “Hell, no.” Two feet away from each other in the front seat of the car, dusk settling around us, we were worlds apart. P. 279