Survival #TheDailyPost #amwriting

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.

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April was a blessing, a trip to a far away and remote country we love, meeting fascinating people, and that reflective time that a writer always needs. Of course there was the challenge, but we had planned for it. It was fun.

The truth is that we did not write anything of substance for a year. I say “we”, because the “characters” – I see them as some kind of spirits, the kachinas of this occult art – did not contribute much either, and so it is only fair to include them. There were titbits of flash fiction, the beginning of a plan that led nowhere…

In brief, the rot had set in. But once back to this crowded little island, ideas came to the surface, en masse. And now, there is a structure slowly emerging. The characters are taking shape, their souls are stirring.

Ha! Creation… The old Scrivener has been taken out of mothballs. No longer survival time, but Renaissance!

Gleeful: #VisDare 137

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It was done, all these long years of study, the cold classrooms, the interminable nights of reading, the despair when the results were dismal… We had finished, the world was ours, your hand in mine and his in yours: what was more beautiful than our friendship?

I remember how our laughs resonated in the ancient hall. Outside the sun was shining: a summer day to precede all our summers. Our joyous steps on the stone floor, and outside our friends and parents waiting. We would chose our life, the three of us, inseparable, chose where we would live, this incredible friendship, perhaps this shared love. The world was still young, and we, even younger! We were rushing into our future, innocent, blind, defenceless…

He went first, as he was a bit older, and you and I took him to board his train, already full of youngsters like him, like us. On the platform grim officers were ensuring the train would leave on time. There, in the East, that war had started.

I soon followed, and then it was your turn, for, by now, women were drafted into combat. So now, with you and him gone forever, I remember the day we left school, full of hopes. I have my eyes left to cry.

Inspired by Erich Maria Remark’s immortal novel, Die Kameraden

 

The Guardian Angel

Hopi Tawa Mural.jpeg

The old man looked out of the window into the familiar expense of the suburban garden, taking in the brightness of the tulips, the now fading bluebells and the impertinent grass, absurdly green. What a contrast with the arid plateau at the foot of the mesa!

There, on his desk, near the photograph of the assembled family – the one he’d taken on his terrace the summer before – she stood, her delicate silhouette arrested in the position of the butterfly dance, the colours of her wings shimmering in the morning light. “You are a beauty,” he thought, “And I am lucky to have you: my inspiration, my living companion…”

Soon, a cup of steaming coffee to his side, he went back to work. “This novel will never be finished,” he said to himself; “Not that I don’t want to, but now I am so slow, and I know… I will run out of time!” It was true that since his wife’s departure (he never thought of her death, merely of a delay in them being reunited) he had become very slow, as if he’d adopted a different rhythm of life. Yet he was waking up at the same time, as if she was still there, and carefully brewed coffee, as if she was waiting for her first cup, upstairs, in their room. But, now, he had gone back to long hand writing, and he was lucky to get a few hundred words into shape during his morning work.

Behind her mask, the kachina was observing him. “You are a good man,” she was saying to herself, “and, you are right, your end is near. But since you have led a good life, and understand the meaning of your life, I will do something for you…”

The old man put his pen down, and looked at her: he knew she was talking to herself, but could hear the soft voice, and he could sense the imperceptible motion of her fingers, holding the pahos, the ceremonial prayer sticks.

“Maiden, do you miss the mountains?” He asked, smiling at her, perhaps not expecting an answer. He resumed his work, the pen scratching the paper, honing words.

Later, as he was feeling more light-headed than usual, he heard her voice again.

“When the time comes, you will know what has to be done,” she said slowly, “and your people will bury you according to your rites,” she continued, “but later, you will take the trail to Maski, the Land of the Dead, and on your way there you will find me: I will wait for you, and guide you, have no fear.”

Image: A mural depicting Tawa, the sun spirit and creator in Hopi mythology. Painted Desert Inn, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. By Fred Kabotie, National Park Service – http://www.nps.gov/common/uploads/photogallery/20140223/park/pefo/BBBAA541-155D-451F-6780A798473458A3/BBBAA541-155D-451F-6780A798473458A3.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23228610

Hopi mythology at Wikipedia

The depth of sorrow, a reading of “Prague Fatale” by Philip Kerr

PragueWWII

 

The year is 1942, and the gods of war appear to be still smiling to the conquering nazis. Bernie, back from the Ukrainian front, is in Berlin, already besieged by restrictions, lack of petrol, lack of good bier and of most amenities. In the West, German cities are now targeted by allied bombers.

There is a dead body, on a railway track, near the Jannowitz bridge. It seems to be that of a foreign worker, a Dutchman. Then there is an incident, at Nollendorf Platz station, when Bernie gallantly saves a young woman from an attacker who disappears in the night. Soon afterwards he is called upon by the Gestapo to help on another case, another body in a small park nearby…

As Bernie starts his investigations fate catches him up, in the icy person of his nemesis, Reinhard Heydrich, now protector of Bohemia and Moravia. Bernie is summoned to Prague, seemingly invited to a party organised for “intimate friends”, in celebration of Heydrich’s new post. Foolishly, Bernie takes the young woman with him, the one he rescued at Nolli.

Prague is in the hands of the SS and the Gestapo. Resistance suspects are arrested, tortured and summarily executed. At Heydrich’s residence, Bernie meets a group of nazi officers, and among them a young captain, like him recently returned from the Eastern front. As Bernie spends the night with his girl, the young captain is murdered, and Heydrich orders Bernie to lead the investigation…

Bernie solves the riddle, only to realise, too late, his mistake and to be forced to hopelessly witness the demise of the girl in the hands of the Prague Gestapo. But soon Heydrich himself is assassinated by Czech resistants… This is a bitter, devilish story, with many twists and surprises, as Kerr immerses his reader in the horrors of Prague in 1942.

Picture from “World War II in Prague”

As a #writer, is #Facebook useful to me?

Au Pont de la Tournelle

Today, a very good friend of mine, in real life as well as in cyberspace, quitted her Facebook account, which she created in 2009. She said to me she no longer had time to keep her page up to date, even to the minimum level that would be of interest to her “friends”. And she added: “But of course, the real friends and I keep in touch, by writing – yes! oldfashion letters – and via our blogs, that are the right places for a genuine exchange of ideas.”

It makes sense to me. When I started using Facebook, it was an attempt to build up the main character in my first novel, and later on, to promote my work. It has been a mixed success. Quickly the character achieved a life of her own, and was never really dependent on social media for her development. From a writing and work promotion viewpoint, I have to admit having had close to zero contribution through the Facebook page I created for the novel. By comparison I found Twitter a far more effective tool, to meet other writers, keep up to date on news that interested me, and promote my work.

In truth, the real writer tool is the blog. There, it is possible to develop a meeting of minds, with genuinely interested readers, and people of common interests, who are willing to take the time to comment and follow. It’s give and take. There is nothing artificial in the development of such communities. Given the time it takes to keep up on social media, one has to be economical, and discerning. Has Facebook helped me in my development as a writer? The answer is, probably, very little, compared with the real progress made on the blogs, and, also compared with the source of inspiration and contacts I found via Twitter.

Is this then, conclusive? I have nothing against Facebook, it’s fun to use, but just appears, often, pointless. This is of course a very personal viewpoint, what does not work for me may well do marvels for others! Our main resource is time. So, maybe, it’s time to reconsider?

Of Thanatos, Ansky’s Notebook and a City in the Desert, a #reading of “2666” by Roberto Bolaño

“Jesus is the masterpiece. The thieves are minor works. Why are they there? Not to frame the crucifixion, as some innocent souls believe, but to hide it.”

2066

“Now what sea is this you have crossed, exactly, and what sea is it you have plunged more than once to the bottom of, alerted, full of adrenalin, but caught really, buffaloed under the epistemologies of these threats that paranoid you so down and out, caught in this steel pot, softening to devitaminized mush inside the soup stock of your own words?”

Gravity’s Rainbow

 

Child in Berlin  -  David Bowie  1977

 

The geography is immense, as the novel meanders through the streets of Paris, Madrid, London or Milan, the ruins of Cologne after the war, the snows of the Austrian border, Venice, Hamburg, the Crimean peninsula, the dark forests of Rumania, Mexico City, and, inevitably, Santa Teresa, the industrious and sinister city in the Sonora desert, still vibrating from the visit of the Savage Detectives.

Is Hans Reiter a reference to the war criminal of the same name? Does the writer’s name, Benno von Archimboldi, hide a deeper meaning? We follow four academics, German literature specialists, united by their obsession with the shadowy writer, Archimboldi. They read, visit each other, Mrs. Bubis, the publisher of Archimboli’s books and his lifelong friend, and try to discover who the writer really is. Their quest finally takes them to the city where girls and young women are butchered by one (of several) sadistic murderers.

Amalfitano, the critics’ host in Santa Teresa, reflects on death and his reasons to have moved o the city, from Spain, where his daughter, Rosa, was born. As he observed the treaty of geometry, hanging upside down from his washing line in his backyard, swept by the desert’s winds and dust, the scholar fears for his daughter, in a city where they kill girls like sparrows. Fate, the reflective journalist from New York, who travels to Santa Teresa for an article on a boxing match, when he is in fact no sports writer, befriends Rosa, and travelled back to New York with her, away from her father and the malediction of the city.

The endless narrative of the murders, spanning four years, unresolved and the investigation of which is plagued by incompetence, corruption and neglect, after all, most of the victims are poor girls working in the sweatshops of the city, or whores, or both, takes three hundred pages of the novel, a harrowing and at times monotonous read. Finally, Klaus Haas, a German-American citizen, is arrested, probably wrongly, for some of the murders.

At long last, we meet Hans Reiter, learn about the house in the forest, the one-eyed mother and the one-legged father. Young Hans is fascinated by the sea and its forests. Unstoppable, the river flows to the beginning of the war. Hans is strong, foolishly brave, visibly with no fear of death. Drafted in a light infantry regiment he picks up an iron cross on his way to Crimea. On a short permission back to Berlin he meets Ingeborg, who after the war would become his wife. Severely wounded Hans is sent to the village of Kosteniko, on the banks of the river Dniepr. There the future Archimboldi meets his future career in a farmhouse that belonged to Boris Ansky’s family, before the village jews were massacred by the Einsatzgruppe C. Hans discovers Ansky’s notebook, the story of an “enemy of the state”, witness of the horror, soldier of the revolution, and genial writer under another man’s name.

Fifty years later, Klaus Haas, son of Lotte, Hans’s sister, is in jail, his trial postponed. Finally Hans, now eighty, and a possible Nobel-awarded writer, visits Santa Teresa, closing the loop.

The book closed, we must read again, as we must reread “Q”, or Gravity’s Rainbow, or the Man Without Quality. In the end we know that Sisyphus trumps Thanatos, even for just a few years.

Image: Child in Berlin  –  David Bowie  1977

Pale criminals, a reading of Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1969-054-16, Reinhard Heydrich

Bernhardt Günther is a tough guy, a survivor of the trenches of the Great War, a cop, a man who loves women, and his city, Faust’s metropolis, Berlin in the 30s.

In March Violets – evoking the cynical opportunists who join the Nazi party late, and buy their way to a low number party card for political advantage – Bernie is a private gumshoe commissioned by a powerful industrialist to recover a precious, and priceless, diamond necklace. The Berlin background of the early years of the Nazi government, the corruption, the fear, the victims, are beautifully drawn, as the plot unfold, at each turn revealing the villainies of a régime that amounts to rule by gangsters. There is more than a diamond necklace in the chase, and Bernie will end up, under the icy blue eyes of Reinhard Heydrich, number 2 in the SS, in the Dachau concentration camp. Bernie survives, by skill and luck.

In the Pale Criminal a sadistic murderer of young aryan women roams the Berlin streets. Sensing a motive that would trouble his sense of law and order, Heydrich drags Bernie back into the Berlin Kriminal Polizei, the Kripo, because he trusts his skills and independence of mind. But there is more to those crimes than one demented mind. As more dead bodies are discovered, and the truth slowly appears, Bernie’s convinced of more horrors to come. The year is 1938, and soon it will be Kristall Nacht, the “spontaneous expression of the German people’s anger”…

A German Requiem finds Bernie in the ruins of Berlin. He has survived the disaster of the Nazi defeat, escaping death both from SS execution squads and Soviet uranium mines. Called upon to save an old acquaintance, a colleague from his Kripo days, accused of the murder of an Americal officer,  Bernie goes to Vienna, the year is 1947. Old Nazis fight for their survival, sometimes by selling their skills to the Americans, or the Soviets. Vienna’s not a heap of burning rubles as Berlin still is, but it’s an occupied city. Black market and prostitution are the main sources of income for the locals, and others. Nothing is what it seems, old enemies may pose as allies, women’s lives are cheap, from the ruins of the old a new world has yet to be born. Bernie fails, and yet resolves the riddle. His wife is in Berlin, he’s in Vienna, and Faust’s metropolis is now blockaded by the Soviets.

Kerr’s knowledge of the Berlin geography and recent history is to be lauded, this backdrop to the character of Bernie Günther perhaps one of  the main charms of the stories. His pictures of villains are remarkable: similarities with gangster-politicians in our time must be the result of sheer coincidence.

Berlin Noir, by Philip Kerr, Penguin Books, 1993

Image: Porträt Reinhard Heydrich in der Uniform eines SS-Gruppenführers ca. 1940/1941, German Federal Archives, Bild 146-1969-054-16

The search for Cesárea, a #reading of “The Savage Detectives”, Roberto Bolaño

Roberto bolaño.jpg
Roberto Bolaño” by FarisoriOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

From the Golden Fleece to The Two Towers, from the Holy Grail to Heart of Darkness, great works of world’s literature are often stories of quests. So goes for Roberto Bolaño‘s masterpiece, The Savage Detectives, which follows two young poets, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, in their odyssey in search for the mythical Cesárea Tinajero, great priestess of the “Visceral Realists”.

We follow them, often under the bemused eyes of Juan García Madero, seventeen when he joins the visceral realists (no initiation ceremony), from the streets of Mexico City to the Sonora desert, via Chile, Nicaragua, California, Barcelona, Rome, Angola, Sierra Leone, and other places in history, meeting biblical whores, murderous pimps, corrupt policemen, incorruptible generals, and, of course, lost poets.

This is a story of poets, fugitives, witnesses… perhaps apostles? Its roots are in the horror and miracles of a continent, steeped in literature and death.

“Bolaño,” writes his translator, Natasha Wimmer, “took seriously the idea of literary immortality – never more than when he turned it into a joke. Failed writers are frequent characters in his stories and novels; so are lost writers, whose legacy must be preserved. In ‘Photographs’, the only published story in which Arturo Belano reappears, he comes upon a kind of illustrated encyclopaedia of forgotten French poets from the 1960s and ’70s. As he looks at their pictures and reads their biographies, remote and irrelevant now, he sees a line of birds on the horizon, ‘an electrocardiogram that flutters or spreads its wings in expectation of their death, thinks Belano, and then he shuts his eyes for a long moment, as if he’s thinking of crying with his eye closed.'”

Geography is equally important for Bolaño, who describes meetings, encounters, love affairs and murders with a careful labelling of time and place: “Rafael Barrios, in the bathroom of his house, Jackson Street, San Diego, California, September 1982.”

I went on to read “Distant Star”, and hope to read “2666” soon. An important writer, a genial novel.

Edit, Rewrite, or… Scrap: #Writer’s dilemma #amwriting

SentinelI know this work is far from being completed, let alone publishable. Friends have, politely, ignored invites to comment, always a bad sign… Yet I am reluctant to scrap, while accepting that making this good would require a lot of effort, probably more so than it took to scribble in the first place.

What hope is there of turning this into a cohesive, structured, readable THING? The structure is like straw in the wind, and I am not convinced it ever was readable as a story. There are good intervals, and those are rarely followed by a consistent development: it’s all very fuzzy.

I have asked the characters, and some of them are willing to help, all in different ways. One suggests making his part the central narrative! Evidently a biased view. Another to tell the tale backwards, with flashbacks. Who knows? I like the characters, even the unruly ones. But the story? I know how it started, how it meandered… to end nowhere, in a confusion of styles, hesitating between futurist, nostalgic or plainly erratic!

So, the question remains, what is there to do? Edit? Rewrite? Or scrap. Plenty of new ideas, plenty of possible projects… Reusing the material – some 100k or thereabout – is tempting, perhaps in an entirely new context.

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