Book Review: Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

12 02 2015

Daughter of FortuneDaughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende did not disappoint. For me good historical fiction is an engaging story with great complexity that contains characters, events, and places based on history that sparks my interest enough to do further research. In other words good historical fiction brings history alive.

Broadly speaking Daughter of Fortune is about people immigrating to North America in search of a better life. The great appeal for many was “Wiping the slate clean” and inventing a new life based on hard work and innovation without the societal shackles of the old worlds.

More particularly the story is of one woman’s journey, from Chile to America during the time of the California gold rush in the mid 1800s. Paralleling her physical journey is her emotional and spiritual journey, her journey from childhood to womanhood, and her journey to becoming an American (culturally if not legally). As a resident and lover of California this time in history is of high interest to me. The story made me think about the melange of people that came from around the world and the circumstances of the time that greatly influenced the foundation and development of California that persists to this day. Feminism is also a very important theme in this story, but I will say no more so as to not create spoilers.

The author gave an account of the California gold rush from a different point of view than what I learned in school (here in California): the non-white point of view. For example, it mentions how many gold rushers from Central and South America arrived before east coast Americans, because traveling by ship was faster than the overland route. Once the east coast Americans arrived and saw that some of the Mexican and South Americans were successful at finding gold new laws were created that were pointedly racist, and made it more difficult for non-white people. What little research I did after reading this makes me think this and other things mentioned in the story (like the infamous outlaw Joaquin Murrieta, and the “Spanish Dancer,” Lola Montez) are plausible, but because of conflicting stories and shady and sensationalized news reporting who can know for sure. It definitely calls into question history as taught in schools, and I will be very interested to read anything I find on the subjects. I’m basing this on when I was in high school in the 80s I’m not sure how they teach this part of California history today in California. It would be interesting to know!

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On Becoming An Aviatrix: From Jumpseat to Left Seat (Part IV)

16 07 2010

At the end of my last post, Making My Way to the Front , I found myself in awe at an altitude of 24,000 feet in the flight deck for the first time. Who knew delivering a cup of coffee could be so life changing? As I walked back into the cabin and sat in my flight attendant jumpseat I could not get the experience of being in the flight deck out of my head. It played like a movie, and would continue to do so repeatedly. To this day I remember it clearly. A seed had germinated, and was about to go through its first rapid growth spurt.

What was the short term result of my experience in the flight deck? I became an excellent flight attendant of course! Not only is it in my nature to try and do whatever it is I do well (which I will add I accomplish to varying degrees), but I had one important extra incentive to do a good job and to do it quickly. Back in the pre-9/11 days, flight attendants were permitted to enter the flight deck during flights, unlike post-9/11 which allows them to enter the flight deck only under very few specific circumstances. So I learned to accomplish my flight attendant duties very quickly and efficiently, the reward being a short break up in the flight deck. This was no small feat. At American Eagle, being a regional airline, the flights were brief, most often under an hour and some as short as 20 minutes. It became like a game – literally.

One flight crew I was flying with for a month actually used to bet on how long it would take me to complete my inflight service and make my routine interphone call: “Anything needed in the flight deck?” That was their cue to ask me for something…anything. Even if they didn’t need anything my answer was always “Right away.”

That is how almost every flight possible I ended up in the flight deck jumpseat for about 5 to 10 minutes at a time. That was a lot of time considering our schedules included up to 7 flights each day, and our lines probably averaged about 70 hours per month. I did that for 2-1/2 years. Sometimes I would just sit and observe. Other times I would ask questions. Many of the pilots were very encouraging about my desire to learn to fly, and gave me short “lessons.” They let me shadow them on their pre- and post-flight aircraft inspections while explaining what they were doing and answering any questions I may have had.

Later on, after I had begun formal flight training, I even called in for the preflight ATIS (automated terminal information system, i.e. weather, airport notes, etc.) and IFR (instrument flight rules) clearance on the ground while at LAX.

It was June 4, 1998, just a little over three months after I had become a flight attendant that I took my introductory flight at San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport (SBP) on the California Central Coast. A good friend of my husband who was a private pilot highly recommended to me his CFI (certified flight instructor). I trusted this particular friend’s judgment, so I went with his recommendation and scheduled my first flight. I showed up to the airport having no idea what to expect.

No one that I was very close to was a pilot, so I was “green” in the true sense of the term. I remember thinking that he would probably do most or all of the flying while explaining to me what he was doing. How wrong I was! From preflight to postflight and everything in between he had me do everything.

The first of many surprises was how small the airplane was. It was two-place, Cessna 152. While sitting inside it felt smaller than any car in which I had ever been! But first things first: we would begin by inspecting the plane, simply called the preflight. I actually questioned whether or not he was pulling my leg when he told me to climb up on the strut to inspect the wing and then take off the gas caps and smell the gasoline…”Really?!,” I said. “Yes, really,” he said. That particular dialog happened repeatedly throughout the flight as he talked me through the whole experience, step-by-step. “I’m going to take off??? …..You want me to stall the plane?!?….Turn this steeply??? …..Do you really think I can land this?!?!” YES, I could do it, and I did it. When it was all over, I was back on the ground, but still in the clouds! Every pilot remembers their first flight, which is always a magical moment in one’s life.

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return. — Leonardo Da Vinci

Next blog post: The logistics & challenges of learning to fly while juggling home life and working as a full time flight crew member.

Previously published July 7, 2010 at “Wheels Up”

On Becoming An Aviatrix: Introduction

9 06 2010

When people initially find out that I’m a private pilot I often get similar responses. First there is a general look of surprise: slight gasp, widened eyes, raised eyebrows, followed by a long “Reeeaaally???” In fact, I often feel the same amazement that I am, indeed, a pilot! The next question I usually get is “How is it that you became a pilot?” What follows is an introduction to the long answer to that question.

Being able to pilot an airplane is a dream for me. Even though I’ve been a certified private pilot since December 2003 and obtained my instrument rating in October 2004, I feel excited every time I get in an airplane whether I’m the pilot-in-command (PIC) or a passenger. Of course the biggest thrill for me is piloting the plane myself. It’s a head trip to be able to actually operate a flying machine. Ever since I was a child I was intrigued by stories and movies involving flying. While traveling commercially, as a passenger, I was always in awe of the entire flight crew with their spiffy uniforms, and professional demeanor. There was a certain magic quality about them, and a special pedestal was reserved for the pilots. They were like gods! The thought never crossed my mind back then that I could be “One of them” someday. As to why that may have been the case I believe is a cultural/gender issue. This idea is touched upon by professional pilot Dottie Norkus while answering the question of “Why are there not many female pilots?” on the web site

Personally, I think that even in this new millennium there are so few female pilots as the career is still considered a ‘male’ career. It is not that is it any ‘harder’ becoming a pilot for a female but I think being a pilot is still not really encouraged as a possibility to girls in school. There are still cultural and gender stereo types that affect what young girls aspire to be.

So what happened that caused me to want to become a pilot, as well as believe I could be one? I’ll begin my saga about becoming an aviatrix in my next blog post. See you there!

Previously published June 9, 2010 at “Wheels Up”

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