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Of Glass & Paper

Sisyphus47's writing blog

By the Lake

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The quiet street is bordered by sumptuous villas, surrounded by trees. Some of the buildings are ancient, although meticulously maintained, probably pre-1914; others are more recent. Most have views over the lake, for this is what would be described, in England, as a well sought-after, leafy suburb. It has been so for a long time, ever since, in the 1850’s, the industrial growth of the Reich, and of its capital city, pushed the wealthy and entrepreneurial to seek the peace of these shores.

We drive past the painter Lieberman’s house, now a museum. Lieberman died in 1935, a confused and broken man, at the start of the worst episode in German, and European, long history. His widow, then aged eighty, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, and killed herself with veronal. We park the car in a spacious space, a few steps from the “lion”, and from the Villa Marlier.

Kaufmann Ernst Marlier, a charlatan who made his fortune selling fake slimming pills to the gullible German ladies and gents, acquired the land and had the house built for himself in 1914. The house is set on an artificial hill, constructed at great cost, to ensure a view over the lake, and an elegant formal garden. This is a vast, comfortable place, well suited to the – then –  wealthy owner who could afford it. We are told (*) that Marlier, after many unpleasant encounters with the law, sold his property in 1921, and finally disappeared without trace in Switzerland. The next owner, Herr Friedrich Minoux, was another one-time lucky businessman, with political ambitions, and who was not so successful under nazi rule, not fault of trying. Minoux had specialised in acquiring jewish businesses at fire-sale prices and built his financial success thereupon.he could not however avoid bankruptcy and sold the property for 1.95 million Reichsmark in 1940.

And so it is that, against strong competition from other nazi supremos, including Doctor Goebbels himself, Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), and future protector of Boheme-Moravia, acquired the Marlier house. There, on 20 January 19942, took place the conference that sealed the fate of millions of European citizens, caught in the nightmare of deportation and extermination on the East front. It is said that the real decisions regarding the “final solution” had already been taken, at the onset of the war, and were, anyway, already written into the “book’s” dreaded pronouncements.

By 1942 Heydrich had been made the über boss of all police and repressive forces in the Reich (Reichssicherheitshauptamt), and in the occupied territories. There is little doubt that the conference, as well documented in the “protocol” meticulously compiled by Obersturmbannführer Eichmann, was at most an endorsement and logistical settlement of the already determined final solution. The fifteen “functionaries” who participated, were in fact, Heydrich himself apart, no decision makers. As the said, many times later, and still during the trial of Eichmann, they obeyed orders…

The exhibition in the house, is superbly, and mercilessly laid out, from the nineteenth century nonsense, pseudo scientific racial absurdities, through the first world war and the fierce repression of the revolution, to the early fascistic violence of the frei Korps in the 20’s, to the onset of the nazi regimes, the logic of the first KZ, the liquidation of the “socialists” within, and finally, the war. There is plenty of sober evidence of the handy work of the Einsatzgruppen, Heydrich’s babies, the massacres of communists and jews, the good citizens of Lithuania, and other proud nationalists, butchering their neighbours with iron bars, under the watchful and impassive eyes of German soldiers. There is plenty of evidence of the cowardice of various collaborating European governments, including France’s Vichy, that managed to deport some 70,000 French citizens and refugees, in less than five years. Over half of the eleven million Europeans, objects of the conference, lost their lives. But, of course, this does not count Germany’s estimated eleven millions military and civilian dead, and the losses of the victorious USSR…

We looked out of the dining room bay windows, where once Reinhard Heydrich stood, surrounded by his fellow “functionaries”. We walked out on the beautiful terrace Marlier had built.

Then, we walked along the awakening lake shore, observing that the ice had melted. A heron flew by, in the woods we saw a wild boar. A beaver colony is evidently hard at work on some trees. So was a woodpecker. Peaceful walkers were taking pictures. So was I.

(*) I am in debt to Deutschlandradio for the programme “Gebt mir Sand, Wasser und Gold, Die lange Nacht von der Insel Wannsee“, for the historical information upon which this post is based.

The photography is from our visit to the Wannseeconferenz Haus in February 2017.

 

 

Bridge #Writephoto

Thursday Photoprompt

beneath-the-bridge

 

From her hideout she could see that the water had receded: the shadow of the bridge was playing in the morning sunshine, the world was silent. Did the horror come from the sea, as in a Lovecraft story? Or did it wait for the high tide to reach its victims?

She knew she could not stay where she was, for it had been safe just for one night, but soon she would have to leave, and resume her journey. Was she on her own, or was there any other survivor? The walk from the wreckage had taken the whole previous day, till late in the night. She’d seen no-one, just heard the horror, the shrieks of agony.

Then the hideous shadow appeared, reflected by the water, approaching slowly, across the bridge…

A reading of Seveneves

Seveneves, a novel by Neal Stephenson

 

From times immemorial, we have dreamed about it, painted it on caves walls, written fiction and speculations, prayed for it not to happen: it is mankind’s common nightmare, Armageddon, the end of our world, the end of our species. Will it be caused by our own misbehaviour, a punishment from our creator, our poisoning of the Earth, our Mother, or a nuclear holocaust? Neal Stephenson’s novel tells the story, of Armageddon from Space, from an unknown source, by an unknown “Agent”. This book, perhaps his best work to-date, is an uncompromising account of our destruction, down to, literally, a dwindling group of survivors, pitiful remnants of a once arrogant civilisation, ours, now hiding in tin cans orbiting the once beautiful planet. The story is, also, of a possible rebirth, couched in such a way as making the reader wonder: has this happened before? For, in some ways, haven’t we been there: the fire from the sky, the flight, the long terror, the survival of the few?

The description of the destruction of the old Earth by the “Hard Rain”, and of the hopeless, harrowing, and ultimately pathetic struggle of those, chosen to escape to Space, occupies the first and larger part of the novel. We learn of the heroic sacrifices of a few, of human nature, once again, leading to disaster after disaster. The males of the species are wiped out, leaving to the seven Eves the final decisions as to the future of humanity. This prepares the reader for the rebirth, the renewal of mankind from the shelter of the asteroid where the Eves have found refuge.

The second part of the book has a distinctly Arthur C-Clarkian flavour to it, as we sweep through five thousand years of post Zero history: mankind lives mostly on a ring of spatial habitats orbiting the Earth; the “New-Earth” is being seeded with recreated creatures and plants; the descendants of the seven Eves, from whose genes the two billions of “Spacers” derive from, have developed separate cultures, in each of the seven genomes legated by the Eves. This is a world of partial segregation between “races”, where orbital mechanics, robotics and genetics dominate science. The description of the “Cradle” reminded me of the “Fountains of Paradise“, but this legacy is not acknowledged in Stephenson’s notes, so it must be an association of ideas. This world is evidently very different (but very classical in terms of the science fiction literature) from ours, and yet the same old rivalries have reappeared (Blue versus Red).

The reader, after a long journey, is left with many unanswered questions. Stephenson, like Clarke before him, holds the human female as more adapted to the conditions of Space: better able to cope with cramped living conditions, isolation and solitude, biologically superior. The novel shows that the decisions made at the Council of the Seven Eves, to fundamentally conduct a differentiated genetics-enabled rebirth of mankind, initially through parthenogenesis, endure after five millennia. As the Spacers come to meet some of the “rootstock” survivors on the surface of New Earth, will they be considered as alien mutants, cowards who abandoned ship,  and unwelcome intruders, or a curiosity from Space? As we remain baffled by the “Purpose”, the nature of the Agent likewise remains veiled in mystery: judgement of God, random micro blackhole, or, simply, destiny?

Seveneves is a fantastic read, from end to finish. The world Stephenson created, its appeal and at the same time repulsive logic, will stay with us forever. So will the Seven.

 

Translate #SaturdayPrompt #fifty

The Prompt

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In the dark corridor she could not see the enemy, only hear her breath: she would have to translate the faint sounds, guess at her position, the distance from her arm, the wrist that held the dagger. Her own move would decide, life or death, victory or defeat.

Image: Dark Corridor

Juicy #FridayPrompt

The Prompt

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As the ice melts, as the clouds fly slowly over the lakes, the city holds its breath, wondering if this is the end of Winter. It may not be, but in the woods, we saw a flight of cranes going East. Do they know? The air is still cold, a light rain falls, the sounds of passing traffic feel subdued, as if this were a time of less certainty.

Yesterday, today, soon we will know, perhaps the rain will continue to fall, and we will have to wait for the light, a little longer…

Photo: © 2017 Honoré Dupuis

 

Sound #DailyPrompt #WritersWednesday

The Prompt

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For some days I have been deep in Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, perhaps one of the most daunting reads of the past decade. I intend to review the novel on my Goodreads page, but for now, suffice to say that sounds have a role in that astounding saga of the end, and rebirth, of mankind. Space is silent, but not those tiny cramped tins, where survivors hide waiting for death… And then…

The source of the dappled light, as she now saw, was sunlight sparkling from waves on the lake below, shooting rays through the branches of trees, perhaps a hundred meters down the slope from her, that were beginning to stir in the morning breeze, making soft noises, as when a sleeping lover exhales.

The light of the sun, the sound of waves, violin notes in the evening air… The symphony of Peace.

Image: “Seveneves: the end and beginning of life on Earth”, The Seattle Times

Lush #DailyPrompt #amwriting

Mimas PIA06258.jpg

There is plenty. Of everything: history, people, murders, treacheries, wars, horror and beauty. The world is a lush stage for the writer: a space where subjects abound, where heroes, villains, creators, liars, assassins wear the most amazing camouflages. Over all this, the dream machines reign supreme. The last man on Mars, the destruction of the Moon, deeper still under the oceans. The Space Station, the Ark… No adventure is impossible, for this is not only the society of spectacle, the entire planet is acting, as if Earth knew what is expected of her.

Of course it can go wrong, even, very wrong. The big meteorite may well materialise (do you remember the Death Star, emerging from Hyperspace?), and then what? Assassins do roam the streets, the Devil never gives up…

Do we lack inspiration? Surely not, if anything is missing it is our (collective) inability to make sense of it, and turn all this into great literature…

Photo: The Saturnian moon Mimas, photographed by the Cassini probe in 2005. The large crater in the upper right (Herschel) gives it a resemblance to the Death Star.

Source: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA06258

Copyright: This file is in the public domain in the United States because it was solely created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted“. (See Template:PD-USGovNASA copyright policy page or JPL Image Use Policy.)

The Prompt

Heard #DailyPrompt

The Prompt

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“Some of it is noise, even white noise, like a slow motor running empty… But sometime you can hear voices, far away, so it is hard to catch words, or even understand what language is spoken. And then there is the notes, the tunes, the sound of instruments one cannot put a name on…”

I was listening carefully, without seeing the person who was speaking: a melodious and calm woman voice, of an older woman, I thought. The place was one of those small, dark and ancient bars, this one hidden from view in a small courtyard, in a part of the city well off the beaten and touristy tracks.

“You have to be patient, give it time. At first you may not hear much, just a little vibration, like light wind in young leaves in Spring. But then you hear: steps, and again voices. If you are lucky, one of them may notice you, and start talking to you, personally. Of course you have to tune in, and be very patient. Then, all of a sudden, you understand: someone is talking to you, you, across those eons of time, across the immense void that separate their world from yours…”

I tried again to see who was talking. A coal fire was slowly burning in the old chimney, I could not see much through the smoke. I ordered another beer. As the girl brought it to my table, I asked her about the speaker. “You’re talking about old Lucy,” said the youngster, amused, “well, she’s here with the same story most evenings. She used to be an archeologist, she’s talking about one of the sites, somewhere in the Middle-East… She claimed to have heard voices, as she says… The poor lady got herself abducted by bedouins as she worked there, and reappeared here, years later… You know, she’s lost it, somewhere in the desert, all those years back….”

Image: © Nick Stevens

A Walk in Sacrower Schloss Park

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The leafless trees look over the park, serenity reigns. Not quite free of ice, the Havel flows, almost with an excuse: it may be February, but winter is far from over. In the distance, through the mist, one can guess at the Glienicker Brücke, the bridge of spies. Many years have passed since then, since the hideous wall was removed, new trees planted, the park reopened, and the old church finally restored to its simple splendour.

The Schloss is still closed, its windows blind; a few steps away stands the millennium oak, witness to the folly of man. The old, tortured trunk still proud, even if half of it lays on the ground, finally resting. The path leads to the edge of Scarow, and further to the west, deep in the forest that surrounds the lake. There, in Summer, the young, and not so young, bathe and flirt in the nude, in the cleanest water around, under the shade of the trees. Now the woods are almost silent, if it were not for the woodpecker’s tireless effort. Half melted snow still lies on the ground, covered in patches with the small, pale bulbs of snowdrops.

The lake is frozen, the calm waters undisturbed by visitors. Nature is still asleep, and Spring a long way off.

Photo: Oak tree in Sacrower Schloß Park, © 2017 Honoré Dupuis

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