#AtoZChallenge2015: Altruism #WritersWednesday

The Alien Next DoorWhat is altruism? From the English Wikipedia entry:

Altruism or selflessness is the principle or practice of concern for the welfare of others. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures and a core aspect of various religious traditions and secular worldviews, though the concept of “others” toward whom concern should be directed can vary among cultures and religions. Altruism or selflessness is the opposite of selfishness. The word was coined by the French philosopher Auguste Comte in French, as altruisme, for an antonym of egoism.”

A view of altruism and volunteering here

#FiveSentenceFiction: Entrance

DSC_0226From the valley we take the well trodden path, the symphony of Spring following us all the way, to the beloved border that marks the start of a steeper climb.

There, the meadow gives way to a rockier ground, and the line of small trees, alpine oaks and pine, becomes visible, just under the cliff.

Many times we have taken this walk, your hand in mine, our steps silent, our slim bodies invisible even to the most attentive of mountain birds.

Always, we end up here, past the old chapel, which vibrates still from ancient pilgrims’ chants: at the crossway we turn towards the smooth rock, to the threshold.

Soon, the gate opens to our most intimate memory: us, enlaced, your eyes on mine, falling forever to our death among the splendour of His creation.

#VisDare 91: Solo

Jazz al frescoWe walk on the open square: children are playing with coloured balloons, an old man sells ice-cream, in front of the church young people wave flags of eastern countries…

You turn to me and say: “Listen!”

The clear sound of the trumpet rises clear above the street, but we cannot see the musician at first, and then there he is: playing this divine melody, under the cloudy sky, oblivious of the crowd slowly gathering around him.

We look for a hat, a box, some recipient where to throw our change in, but there is none, for this is a poet, who lives by and for his art.

#FiveSentenceFiction: Engulf

engulfedShe wanted to be herself, confident and able to chose: where she would go, who she wanted to live with, or not, what she would do with her life.

Long ago, when she was still a little girl, she had made up her mind: she would not follow, she would not go with the flow, even more: she would lead.

And now, she was here, on this world, alone of her species, surrounded by creatures who were so different from humans, and those creatures worshipped her: the huge bodies, armoured like monsters of legend, capable of shifting megatons – they approached her silently, their tentacles raised in sign of submission.

She was so small, on this planet, so far away from her own star, the only survivor, she was so alone, and yet she felt the prospect of a new life, after all, she’d even started talking with them.

Suddenly, she knew: at long last she’d found her destiny: she would be queen, she could even, perhaps, find a way to start a dynasty: this world had immense resources, and she would reign on a powerful people.

Image source: http://alexandra-sousaa.tumblr.com/

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris #amreading #Dreyfus #antisemitism

An Officer and a SpyMarie Georges Picquart was a brilliant officer, and an honest man. Born in 1854 in Alsace (his family’s home was in Geudertheim near Strasbourg) he left the province with his widowed mother after the defeat of 1870. He became a brilliant officer, received the Legion d’Honneur for action in the Tonkin (North Indochina, now VietNam) and distinguished himself in North Africa, before joining the École Militaire in Paris as topography teacher. In 1894 he was involved in the margin of the military trial of captain Dreyfus, as observer for the then Minister for War, General Mercier. Dreyfus was accused of spying and providing secret military documents to the Germans. On behalf of Mercier Picquart handed over a “secret dossier” to the court president, which led to the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus and his deportation in atrocious conditions to Devil’s Island.
Here starts Robert Harris extraordinary novel, which follows Picquart step by step through the ordeal that was to follow. Whereas the main facts of the Dreyfus affair are well known, Harris’s meticulous research has led him to write a fascinating story of betrayal and courage, where the main actors of the drama are brought back to life in front of us. Picquart, after Dreyfus’s conviction, nominated (to his surprise) as the head of a shadowy section of Military Intelligence (Deuxième Bureau) largely responsible for the production of the dossier, becomes rapidly convinced that the court convicted the wrong man. France was then in a state of paranoia about a possible war with Germany (the new Reich had been declared in Versailles, in 1871, on the strength of the Prussian victory over France, which had led to the loss of Alsace and Lorraine), and French opinion was divided between antisemitic monarchists and extremists, and the partisans of the Republic. Picquart steadfastly investigated the making of the dossier, among his own staff and the departmental archives, and concluded not only Dreyfus’s innocence, but also the identity of the real culprit.
As with many other witnesses of injustice and lies through modern history, once Picquart had shared his findings with his superiors, he was pushed aside, posted to a dangerous mission, and ultimately, as he refused to give in, prosecuted and jailed. The reader is inevitably drawn to compare Picquart’s fate with other more recent cases of whistleblowers or witnesses, and I personally was prompted to remind myself of the circumstances of the death of Dr. David Kelly, defense expert and employee of the Ministry of Defense, who lost his life for treating the ignoble lies that were presented as the “WMD dossier” on Iraq as total rubbish. Picquart eventually succeeds in getting Dreyfus freed, although complete justice was never done. Dreyfus was pardoned (rather than fully rehabilitated), and Picquart reintegrated in the army. He would later become Minister of War in the Clemenceau’s cabinet (1906). He will die in active service, a brigadier general, a few months before world war I.
Harris’s description of Paris twenty years before the war, of the military caste of General Staff officers, their prejudices, their hatred of the Jews, and of Picquart’s quiet courage, is compelling. Curiously the author does not mention in his sources, that are comprehensive, the harrowing account of the Dreyfus affair by Hannah Arendt in her book “The Origins of Totalitarianism”.

Of Decker and a Goldfinch #amreading

The GoldfinchThere are novels that seduce at first sight, and get read over a few hours. Others, more severe to approach perhaps, continue to cast disturbing shadows, long after the book is shut. So is The Goldfinch. This is my first encounter with Miss Tarrt, an opportunity offered by a gift at the end of last year, maybe a title I would not have noticed on my own and unprompted (being eclectic also has its blind spots!) To be sure, this novel is very long, more than seven hundred pages of narrative, lengthy description of locations, and study of characters. I have to admit that all that, in the first tier of the book, almost defeated me. I am glad I persevered, in the dark evenings of the last weeks of this London winter.
Donna Tarrt is a talented writer, without any doubt. I am likely to read her other two novels that preceded The Goldfinch, sometime, later. For now, I am still wondering about the fate of Theo, the boy whose surname evokes Blade Runner, not the only reference to the film along the way. The Goldfinch is a love story, a triangle of love: the mother, the son, and a painting. Let me say first of all, that Fabritius (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carel_Fa…) is a real Dutch artist, who did paint The Goldfinch in 1654: this part is not fictional. But the triangle is also: a girl, a boy, and the painting. The girl is Pippa, whose life was shattered by the same outrage that nearly killed Theo. The boy is a street urchin from the Ukraine, or is it Poland? The two boys fall into friendship, possibly more, and this fraught, but durable, relationship follows them, from the sandy suburbs of Las Vegas, where they first meet, to the streets of Manhattan, to the sleazy underbelly of Amsterdam, and the climax of the story. The true hero is, of course, the bird. Is Pippa Rachel, she of Blade Runner’s fame? The search for memories, for dreams, for lost love gives us, at times, the best written sentences I have read in an American novel for a long time. There are many stories in this book, about America, the broken dream, about betrayal, about furniture, about the underwold that seems to surface, unchallenged, in our societies of greed.
I can’t decide yet, if this is a great novel, I sense it is very close. Old Decker thinks so too.

#VisDare 90: Clarity #WritersWednesday

ClarityWhen he woke up, there was light, diffused, the sort of light made of winter mornings, or perhaps the light after the fall: when broken things can no longer be mended.

So, he looked out of the window (or so he thought), a thin, metal framed construct, designed to keep him in, or perhaps, other things out.

Below him the road stretched, interrupted by a chasm, a blackhole of fog: how did he get there?

Then he remembered: the blast, the rain of melting steel, their column swallowed up by burning empty space: and, now, there were just the two of them, he, the human survivor, and the cyborg that saved his life… Below them, the hunt had started.

#FiveSentenceFiction: Vindictive

Inspired by the character of Theo Decker in The Goldfinch

The GoldfinchI saw the cruel rictus on his lips, my friend on his knees, bleeding, the spent cartridges on the dirty concrete floor, and I knew: I would be next.

Beyond this place of despair, I saw my mother’s reflection in the mirror, her sweet smile, the deep blue eyes, her beloved mouth, showing me the way…

So I took a small step toward him, as he requested, very slowly, so as not to alarm his mind, troubled by the drug,

And in one smooth motion I threw the knife, deep in his chest, reading the surprise in the thug’s eyes as he fell on the floor, dying…

I could hear the Blade Runner laughing…

#Promptbox: Clouds

OdetteSince they’d settled in the city, by now he has almost forgotten when that was, he rarely thinks of the old town. Only in Spring, as the resurgence of colours, the clothes of women in the street, and the smiles on children’s faces, made him long for a past of peace and smallness, when himself was a kid, and the world was still vast.

In his study of Neukölln, surrounded by pictures of their travel, through Europe and North America, and portraits of his wife, Sarah, and of his one-time lover Melissa, the girl from Köpenick, sometime together, once or twice in a trio with Helga, his therapist, he continues to write, now on his second novel, now richer than ever, but still a disturbed soul.

This morning, Sarah’s out with Melissa, on a shopping expedition that may also take them to the haven of the Gendarmenmarkt apartment, and the renewed complicity of their mutual affection. His mind, unconcerned, at peace with heir present life, is floating away, to narrow streets, to medieval lanes bordering overgrown and haunted gardens, to a busy street where pedestrians wear old-fashioned clothes, and where he, alone, for a while friendless, seeks answers to questions that will elude him for ages to come.

There, behind clouds and the sharpness of an ancient Spring, he’s looking for her, near the old school, not far from his parents’ house, perhaps even along the river where his mother walks to admire the kingfisher. The sounds are low and a little hesitant, blurred by the silence of his room, and the low notes of jazz drifting from the lounge: this is an imperfect journey, as if he were reluctant to go all the way, resisting the call from these years of solitude and longing, from his childhood.

He’s near the church; he sees the pharmacy on the right, next to the barber where his father and he have their haircuts on Saturdays. The wide square has recently been redesigned, and the rubbles from the war cleared, and replaced by an elegant parterre of flowers. To his left he knows a short walk would take him to the bridge, over the little river. To the right is the main street, and somewhere, half way to the town limits, is the house with the courtyard.

He can see her now, a young girl, naked like him, and bathing in the old stone tub, near the fountain, at their feet the rounded stones reflect the sunlight: she’s laughing and throwing water at him, her face that of sheer pleasure. House and yard may be the oldest in the town, at the back is a workshop: her dad’s working space. Her face upturned to him, she sees their future, no doubt, and her smile fades. She starts crying, small tears keep flowing on her rosy cheeks. He does not understand, he thinks she’s angry with him, he holds her hands in silence. Calmer, she kisses his cheek. Her mum calls them both inside, to get dry and clothed.

At night, in his room, or rather the corner of the house where he sleeps, he can hear the rats running inside the hollow walls. His mum says they are as old as the house. He’s no longer there, time must have passed, he’s now bigger, stronger, but he’s still looking for her. He cannot remember, there is a small lane, near a nightclub: he knows this is important, or it will be. Some shadows obscure his vision: Helga did say he should not attempt to go there. A crime was committed there, not by him, he was far away then.

This is it, he was far away, and he should not have been: Julian knows the truth, he betrayed his childhood love, he is inconsolable. No amount of work, of success, no therapy, can ever change that fact.

#VisDare 89: Aware

AwareThese days, he rarely visited the old town: he wanted to forget the ghosts, even if he sometimes missed the tortuous streets, the medieval houses, the narrow lanes at the back of secret and overgrown gardens…

But today, he wanted to go back, to smell the ancient timber, admire once again the tortured roofs, and those long gone courtyards.

There, near the templar church, in one corner, he knew he would meet her again, the cloudy shadow of a timeless beauty… and those eyes…