#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”.

#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.

#FiveSentenceFiction: Spoiled (or a day in Paradise)

DSC_0346We walk along the high brick wall, the road side covered with snowdrops and daffodils, soon to see the old castle, perched on the hill, surrounded by meadows, ochre stones on blue sky.

Few trees are yet in bloom: this is the time of year when Spring is lurking, not yet triumphant, but already more than a promise.

Soon, we take the narrow lane, bordered with hedges full of busy birds, I am following you, my eyes taking in the beauty of the morning and your supple steps, your curves and the sloping hills in one exalted breath.

Among the crocuses and the primroses we sense hints of more wealth to explore, perhaps a little later, the air is still cold…

In the middle of this landscape I am thinking of all the other places in the world, unhappy, and ravaged by cruelty and greed: what made us so fortunate?

#FiveSentenceFiction: Forgotten

2001They approach slowly, through the landscape of rocks and dust, their steps forever silent.

It is as was written: the crater pocked by the impact of smaller asteroids, through millennia, and the uniform grey dust.

Their leader holds the white torch high, in their radio they have heard:

The slow rumble, punctuated with short burst of sharp notes, the sound of hyperspace messaging…

And the monolith rises in a shower of dust and rocks, dwarfing the scenery around them: the Sentinel has woken.

#Promptbox: Une Femme Est une Femme

The AdelphiHis dreams often found him, on islands of darkness, trying to reach out, to long lost lovers, to his parents, and, to her, the elusive woman, the shimmering silhouette. Sometime, he woke up, lost, looking for some way to find, an old phone number, an address, a letter. In the paraphernalia of his sleep he found an extraordinary luxury of details, a Proustian vault of forgotten objects, of rooms once visited, of family occasions, inaccessible under the light of day.

And always, she was there, along the streets of his mind, in cities that were once real, no longer inhabited, other than by her ghost. She walked fast, alone, ignoring the shadows. He wanted to call her, to let her know. In the suburbs of his dreams other things crawled, hardly visible, indeed unseen, perhaps nested in the interstices of another universe. She was not aware, he guessed, of even his existence.

Silent, he was searching, feeling his way, blind to the dawn that would come, for her and for him.

Inspired by “The City & the City”, China Miéville.

ImageThe Adelphi by Bill Brandt, 1939

#FiveSentenceFiction: Villainous

DSC_0517We met in the Alte Nationalgallerie, in Faust’s metropolis, admiring old masters, he, well into eighteenth century German painting, and I, as ever the historian, researching the pre-1870 period, before the Iron Kingdom turned into the centre of the new Reich.

A passing comment, near Toteninsel of Arnold Böcklin, started up our conversation.

“I can’t locate your accent,” he said smiling, and I recognised, just in time, the smile of Gerard Philippe in La Beauté du Diable…

“I was born here” I replied, “but have travelled a bit since then.”

“I like that,” continued the Devil, “Art and travel make for a healthy mind, don’t you think?”

#FiveSentenceFiction: Flight

Migrating cranesWe took the path out of the village and up the wooded hill, and we saw that the landscape was already wearing its early winter coat.

It was not cold, just that early evening coolness that makes one think of wood fire, and cosiness in a warm house.

You looked at the sky, in the direction of the soon setting sun, the pale blue of the horizon now tainted a deep orange.

Then we heard them: an impeccable flight of migrating cranes, the thin V shape of their formation cutting through the evening, dead on the orange globe.

You pressed my hand and said: “You see, they are flying all the way from the Baltic, over this landscape, every year, stopping somewhere in the Ardennes for the night, on their way to Southern Spain, or maybe even Africa, and, you know, our descendants will still see them, after we have long gone.”

Weird Paris: Saints and Sinners

Sisyphus47:

Secrets of a most secretive city…

Originally posted on Paris: People, Places and Bling!:

Whilst traipsing through the Jardin des Tuileries, watch-out for “Le Petit Homme Rouge” ("Spring" by sculptor François Barois, Photographs by Theadora Brack) Whilst traipsing through the Jardin des Tuileries, watch-out for “Le Petit Homme Rouge” (“Spring” by sculptor François Barois, Photographs by Theadora Brack)

Now, let’s go raise some spirits! (La Nuit, T. Brack’s archives)

By Theadora Brack

Calling all saints and sinners: Snuggle tight because it is time to crack open my slim, spellbound volume of spirited adventures in Paris for another retelling. For tricks, I’ve added a few new tales and photographs. I’ve also got the flashlights, pillows, and blankets, along with the marshmallows and bubbly for toasting. Here are eleven of my favorite spooky grounds.

Now, let’s go raise some spirits!

1. The Unknown Celebrity of the Seine

Among the artsy clutter that once adorned nearly every artist’s lair was a plaster face with a mysterious smile. These were cast from a famous death mask called “L’inconnue de la Seine,” made from an unknown 16-year-old who washed up on…

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#FiveSentenceFiction: Horizon (the Navigators)

Cassiopeia“In space there is no horizon,” the captain declares, in her intelligent voice, as much to herself as to the duty crew.

You look at me, with the calm eyes of one who knows: soon the captain will read the instructions, and we will ready ourselves  for the long voyage, but only us two know how far we will travel.

Everyone is getting on with their tasks, without haste, as our fragile vessel continues her journey through the night.

… The alert bell rings: an elegant blue hologram floats in the air, and the captain calls the crew to attention.

“I have to communicate to you the new direction we are now to take: we are not turning back, we continue to Epsilon of Cassiopeia, which means over the time horizon, through hyperspace”: the crew falls on their knees, in prayer, you, my love, hold my face in both hands – over the horizon, for us, means eternity…