Beginnings #writephoto

Beginnings

dawn

 

He knew where they had met, but he was less certain of when that was. He remembered the small town, and the woods, above all the woods, where they walked, kissed, watched the sun rise, the freezing dawns, enlaced, forever at one, with each other, and with the trees.

She was the one, and those were their beginnings. They watched the sun set, the skies on fire. Her grey eyes reflected the light. He had felt so strong then. He was, so they called him. She watched him go, such a breakup in her heart…

Now, after all the death, the sand, the blood, he was back. Alone, at the end, a fallen hero.

 

In the Land of Ago

A reading of 11.22.63 by Stephen King

3-front-quater-top-up-sunliner

 

How often do we think: “If only I could change this”, or, in whatever form, “if only I could have a second chance, go back, and do something different”? Going back, erasing, and changing the past is an old dream, the subject of countless tales and fiction works. Of course there is a second law of thermodynamics, to keep things simple, that says “no-can-do” – but still…

But imagine one could go back, reverse entropy, and travel back in time, would it be possible to change anything? Or, is the past resistant to change, obturate enough to stop, or at least oppose, a time-traveller interfering with what was, and, maybe, should be? And, even if the time traveller could change the past, what would be the cost? Perhaps more ominously: what would be the consequences?

Changing history is a special case. History, they say, is written by “the victors”, whoever they may be. It can also be rewritten, and this without, perhaps because of (not), going back to the past. There is the “official” version, and the “conspiracies”. A long-lasting, and still sinister, such story is that of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Jake Epping, not a crying man, is an English teacher at a high school in a small town in Maine. The year is 2011, and this is the end of term. Jake is, unique among his school colleagues, the customer of Al Templeton, the proud owner of the fat burgers diner. More than just a customer. He’s soon someone with whom Al is about to share a deadly secret. At the back of Al’s diner trailer is an anomaly: a fissure in time. Al has a mission, one he cannot complete, for he is dying of lung cancer. He wants Jake to take over, as he has identified Jake as someone who could, who will, bite at the bait. So Al teaches Jake, explains how this could work, and Jake listens. There is a first trial, then another. On the other side of the fissure it is Spring 1958, and America is young. Jake likes what he sees. He enjoys the fresh taste of root beer, the sweet air. Jake also has a personal objective: to prevent a domestic tragedy and help his friend Harry Dunning. The first leg of the story is there: the killing of Frank Dunning. Jake, armed with Al’s mission and notes, as well as dollars of the time, embarks on the journey.

Saving the Dunning family will take two attempts to get it “right”, or so Jake thinks. Then his personal odyssey will start , on the road to Dallas. For Al’s, now Jake’s, aim is to prevent the assassination of President John Kennedy, on November 22, 1963, nothing less. Jake has five years to adapt, plan, live, and, finally, execute Al’s mission.

Jake follows a route of nostalgia: an all-American Ford Sunliner, overnight stoppages in motels, drive-in cinemas, finally a small town, and an equally small school, in Texas. Later, much later, there will be Dallas and the horror. For a while it is (almost) paradise, his class, football, friends, a girl he falls in love with, America’s early 60’s: (almost) perfection.

Jake decides to stay, he won’t go back to 2011. But, in the end, he does. For fulfilling the mission has unpredictable consequences. When, on the threshold of his desperate return, Jake faces a dystopian 2011, he finally understand what Al had missed: that interfering with the strings of time has a price, and this is proportional to the change.

The novel concludes on a note of hope, an ending for which Stephen King credits his son, Joe Hill, at the end of the book.

11.22.63 is a great novel, to read, reread, and cherish. It is also a book to meditate on, seriously, listening carefully to the voice of its author.

Photo: Ford Sunliner 1958, via eclassicautos.com

 

Arch #writephoto

Arch

arch

 

For centuries the great abbaye had stood, in its majesty and glory, in the peaceful landscape. It was then a centre of faith and science, where wise men worked, and kept the flame of civilisation burning. They were frugal, up in the frosty mornings before dawn, ploughing the fields and teaching the children; their chants filled the vales and forests, rising to the sky.

Then the heretics had come, plundering, burning, torturing the faithful. A dark veil had fallen on the earth, the Dark Lord’s reign had begun.

But today, in the faint light of dawn, I can hear the monks’s voices, the soft footsteps of their sandals. I sense their presence, their curiosity, even, about this strange creature, this human being who survived the fall. Their anthem is but a light breeze through the icy air.

The arch stands, witness to a millennium of folly. And there, on the cold stones, I kneel, praying to the true God, in submission and piety, the last, shivering survivor of the war, that ended the evil empire.

Dedicated to the builders of the great abbayes of Yorkshire, and their defenders.

Urge to stay #fivewords

Weekly Writing Challenge #127

engraving1

 

She answered his wish, his urge to spend another year in the City, among the ghosts, in the parks, on the banks of the river: yet he knew she would soon crave the sight of another river, the high cliff, her sister the Mermaid. At night he would listen to the sailor’s scream for the fatal beauty.

As his dream faded, hers would radiate the green colours of the Rhine.

 

Picture source

No Rhyme #fivewords

Inspired by the Secret Keeper’s Weekly Writing Challenge #124

farnese-isis-full-shot

 

He felt her insistent stare on him, as he held the precious tablet, still covered by a thin film of blond sand. The text looked like a list, but he guessed that it might also be a poem, perhaps both. Was there a rhyme? His knowledge of the language was not advanced enough for him to know. He turned to the goddess, and met the emerald eyes, still fixed on him.

A long time passed, he knew she would speak, and so waited, in the silence of the sacred valley. At long last, he heard her voice, melodious, as if coming through a long tunnel: “It’s no poem, it is an ancient spell, and who casts his sight on it, shall be turned into stone.”

Image: A Roman-era version of the Knot of Isis worn by the Goddess or Her priestess, via https://isiopolis.com

Looking back… #Iamwriting

Berlin_Kunstbunker

 

Last winter, there was ice on the windows… Perhaps, now, we miss that cold edge to the air?

The long walks along the river, the parcs, the lakes. A cold Sekt on a bench, long rides in the vibrating forests, the discovery of ancient sites, the monuments to deep history…

The storm. Each day counted, a boat trip on the lake, an hour in the museum, Luther, Sans Souci… Ruinenberg…

Yes, some short stories, but the novel is still beached, going nowhere. Does it matter?

No, it was a good year. Each day counted, 1937, a look into a recent past, and, wrapped in mist, a further away time: what ghosts roam in those older streets?

Discoveries: characters to make alive, tales to tell, dreams to repeat.

Inspiration: each new dawn, nature fighting back, art… The dark Muse.

Books? Turing, Wittgenstein, The Plot Against America, Silk Roads, Musil…

We are grateful for every morning, in the City of Faust: a Moveable Feast…

Photo: Air-raid shelter in Berlin at the Reinhardtstraße. At the present it is used as a private museum for contemporary art of art collector Christian Boros. On the top of the shelter is a reproduction of the Barcelona-Pavillion.

By Times – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3950214

 

Mists #writephoto

Mists

fog

 

The ground was frozen, and as he looked up at the pale disc of their star, recognising the landscape in the mists, inhaling the air, he remembered the desert, the infinite sand, the temples in the dunes. He was back. After all these years. Who would recognise him now? He had been a young man then, almost a boy still, who liked to play in those fields, who enjoyed feeling his growing strength, his supple body… He remembered their departure, the colours of the flags, the hymns, the long line of young men, just like him. He remembered her face, the laughter, the cries, the prayers – the wind in her hair.

He remembered the sand, rivers of blood flowing in the sand, the scorching heat of the day, the frozen nights… So many dreams scattered to the desert winds. Now, he was alone, perhaps the only one to have come back.

But who was left who would recognise this ghost, lost in the mists?

 

Bleak #writephoto

Bleak

glaston4-258

 

We walk, hand in hand, to the shore,

up to the small promontory, and we see our island:

it is cold today, but we don’t feel it.

Our bare feet slide over the rock,

Your empty eyes turn toward me, my love,

asking me, in silence,

if I am ready to start our voyage.

I smile, my frozen heart reaching yours,

for I know we belong there,

you and me, for ever, under the heavy stone,

below the chapel,

where once, long ago,

they burned us at the stake.

Departure

1200px-GendarmenmarktLB

Henry Miller had written about his city, and Francis Lenôtre too had known happy days in his birthplace. The street was calm, a few children were playing near the school, a familiar sight. Francis closed the door, turned slowly round holding his light suitcase in a firm hand. The metro station was ten minutes walk from his apartment, a well trodden path he had followed many times in the thirty years he’d lived there.
A short and wiry man, in his early sixties, he still projected a sense of energy and strength, and the attentive face of a fit, mature man, at ease in the lecture room as much as in the training room. Today, his first stop would be the Gare de l’Est, where he would catch the afternoon high speed train to Berlin. The journey would take six hours, with a fifteen minutes stop in Frankfurt. He would have plenty of time to read the brief for the literature conference he would be attending two days later, to polish his own paper, and perhaps he would even be lucky enough to catch Myriam, his ex-wife, on her busy schedule.
In front of the town hall he noted the new graffiti on the wall of the old party local office, and the hate symbols freshly painted from the previous night. The day before he had read several articles describing the explosive situation in the East, the coastal cities, and western Ukraine. The internet was awash with speculations and warnings of an impending war, of the next move by the powerful Eurasian Federation, and of the neutral silence that was now a feature of US diplomacy. He boarded an almost deserted underground train, and soon he arrived at his destination.

As he entered the station, Francis reflected that, at a time when high speed trains were finally replacing internal European flights for the greater common good, rail stations looked more and more like the previous century’s airports: Mammon temples. A patrol of four soldiers led by an NCO marched past him, as he was checking the news panel. The NCO’s beret revealed an elegantly shaped feminine nape, and a young face with beautiful dark eyes. He was already walking to the gate, then boarded his coach, found this seat, and checked for messages. He had tried to contact Myriam since he knew for certain he would attend the conference. He always told her what he was doing, and where he was going, a habit of ten years of marriage he had not abandoned. Of course, he was never sure of where she was, since the compliment was rarely returned. To his mind, it did not matter, as it was still his duty to ensure she knew where he was, in the unlikely but still possible event that she would need him. Francis logged his pad to the train network, and accessed the conference site, checked the timetable of speakers.

The subject of the conference was “fiction and reality in the days of neutrality”. This was a clear reference to the situation of writers, now that the East-West old rivalries had finally been made all but obsolete by the newly elected US president’s unilateral and popular decision, five years earlier, to return his country to near isolationism, declare neutrality, remove his troops and most of his diplomats from Europe, quit the Alliance military wing, as well as withdraw from all but a few of the now useless overseas bases. Authors, who had long thrived on stories of Middle-eastern wars and western special forces heroics, were now high and dry, like their predecessors spy hunters at the end of the Cold War. But western Europe was holding forth, in the shape of a resurgent, and, occasionally, vociferous German conservative government, that had taken again the mantle of defender of the “free world”, whatever that now meant for the Alliance.

As his train was leaving the Paris conurbation at accelerating speed, Francis checked his pad again for messages. Myriam was, as ever, silent. On one of the Eurasian Federation news sites he followed, Francis noticed a recent post describing the violence and racism of some groups in one of the coastal countries. The author claimed that no amount of Alliance armour or ex-US fighter jets would soon protect those thugs from a just punishment. The tone was patriotic but calm, and Francis wondered whether the blogger was writing for herself, or inspired by some officious source. Some news channels reported movements of Alliance troops close to the Federation border. The day before, the chancellor had made an uncompromising speech in the Bundestag, affirming that the Republic would stand by its allies, and the “common European values”. But who counts now as her “allies”, thought Francis, and as for “values”…

Half empty at the departure in Paris Est, the train filled up in Frankfurt, a mix load of passengers including military personnel travelling east on duty, business travellers like him, and families. The journey to Berlin would only take now two hours, which Francis intended to use to polish his speech. His subject was a humoristic comparison between John Le Carré and a fictional young writer who had achieved some fame singing the praise of the old intelligence services, champions of freedom, before neutrality set in, and this genre became quaint and, finally, irrelevant. He meant to contrast the spirit of Le Carré’s writing, denouncing the elites’s collusion with forces of evil, as in the “Constant Gardener”, and the early Cold War Smiley’s novels, with the total adhesion of some recent authors to the myths of the “War on Terror”, the threats to civilisation and the glory of its heroic defenders, reflecting, in his view, the subservience of many of these youngsters to a crumbling order. Francis expected a moderate approval in response to his thesis, at best. Did he care? In a sense he did, as he was still of the old school, who believed in a role for literature in the business of living, and therefore, politics. His invitation to the conference had been from an old acquaintance in the german publishing world. He’d accepted for the sake of old time, and for the opportunity this gave him to be back in Berlin.
As the forested landscape of central Germany flew past the Intercity window, Francis reflected on the events of the past decade, and on his own life. His wife Myriam had divorced him ten years ago, and they had since remained “friends”. Myriam, born in Tel-Aviv in the 80’s, from a jewish observant American mother and a French entrepreneur father (entrepreneur in what, Francis had never known for certain), was attractive, sure of herself, and determined to have everything her way. Even to have him, Francis, whom she’d married, first and foremost, to prove to herself that she could master the art of being a wife, and, secondly, have a son from a man she could respect. Their son, Philip, gifted with his father’s charm and his mother’s determination and looks, was now starting in his career as architect.

The marriage had not lasted more than ten years, which Francis thought, at the time, was an achievement in itself. Myriam was unfaithful, openly, and seriously so, compared with his own infidelities, a very successful business woman, who rapidly tired of their life together in his old-fashioned suburb, even though, in the later years of their marriage, she did not spend there more than two or three months in the year. She now lived in London, with a lucrative job as a private financial consultant to high net-worth individuals, or to the façade companies that shielded them from preying eyes. Their meetings were far apart, but not so infrequent for them not to get a little closer, occasionally. Philip had decided, after Oxford, to live close to his mother, and mother and son shared a spacious penthouse in the East End.

They were now approaching the marches of Saxony. Francis checked his pad: he had a message from Philip who said that his mother would call him once he’d arrived in Berlin; but, of course, he reflected, this had to mean she wanted him to call her then. Memories came back to him of Myriam and him in Berlin, before their divorce, one of the happy trips away from France, which had found them once again in love, and in love with the city. The city of Faust. They had even, briefly, considered living there, exploring Brandenburg, visiting Poland, perhaps even Russia…

They’d arrived at the Hauptbahnhof, all glass and steel. Francis checked the time, packed his pad: it looked like a warm late afternoon in Berlin, so he would walk to his hotel on Friedrichstraße. He enjoyed the walk, past the chancellery, along the river bank and the Reichstag, and Unter den Linden. When he reached his hotel he found a message from the conference organisers: the start of the conference was to be delayed by a couple of days since delegates from Eastern countries – did this refer to Poland? – were experiencing travel disruption. He was to call the organisers’ information desk the next day to get a new schedule. It crossed his mind that he wouldn’t mind spending a little longer here: nothing was urgently requiring his return to Paris, and he knew where to rent working space, if needed. When he tried and called Myriam, to his surprise, he found the network congested. He unpacked, and decided to take a stroll to Gendarmenmarkt before dinner.

The old square, and the two churches, were a nostalgic spot for him, where he had often stood and watched the crowds, the demonstrators holding various nationalities flags and symbols, the balloons sellers, the bubble blowers, the tourists in summer dresses. The square in this early evening was crowded; he noticed various flags, but there was no confrontation. Several trucks of black-clad city police were parked along the eastern side of the square, at a distance. The mood was somewhat more subdued than he remembered, but his last stay here was back four years. His walk took him past an Austrian restaurant he remembered he had, almost in another life, appreciated. The interior was cosy and light, the waitress smiled at him and asked what his accent was. Am I losing my Berliner? He asked himself, a little puzzled. But then the waitress was not German, unless she came from a remote germanic tribe in the Far East, for neither could he identify her own accent. He ordered a generous salad and half a bottle of Austrian red.

It was then that his phone rang, with the hallmark tone of the lady Myriam. She wanted to know how long he was planning to stay in Berlin. She’d heard some noises of panzers close to the Polish-Federation border. But this wouldn’t deter her to come to meet him in Berlin, if he did not mind, and stay a little. No, he did not mind, in fact, he said, it would be nice to see Berlin now, with her, and perhaps they could discuss the situation then. She laughed: ever the talkative type, Francis! She said she would call back once she had sorted her flights. Flights, plural, of course, he thought. But he was delighted. What could be more agreeable than the company of his best friend?
In the lobby of his hotel, a group of American tourists were watching the news. Columns of armour were following a long motorway, viewed far away from the air. The colours or flags were not visible. Where was this? He would read a little, then turn off.

Viktoria Park I © 2017 Honoré Dupuis

Photography: Gendarmenmarkt, Leon Bovenkerk Eigenwerk

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