Without reasons…

brassai_avenue_de_lobservatoire_dans_le_brouillard_c_1934_d5972153g

 

He must’ve known those people, sometime, some year, in the distant past. But whose past? The voices sounded far away, in a language he thought he should remember, the faces in semi darkness, when he knew that – somewhere – it was already daylight (but he could not be completely sure).

At last he looked out, from the vanishing dream. There was sunlight. He was alone, the voices had gone, the faces vanished. Everything was there, as it had been the day before. He had just slept longer than was his due.

Earlier, he realised, he’d been out, in the street, in the fog. There was a group of people, talking. It was in the past. Whose past?

Photography: Brassaï (1899-1984), Avenue de l’Observatoire dans le brouillard, c. 1934, courtesy Christie’s Modern Visions

Haunted #AtoZAprilChallenge

chateau20de20brissac

From: List of reportedly haunted locations in France

Photo: Chateau de Brissac, France (“Even if you’re not into ghost hunting, this is a great place to visit. This ornate castle was masterfully rebuilt in the 17th century, and is overflowing with antiques, original tapestries, and the ceilings are even painted with gold. As soon as you enter the castle you get an eerie felling and a slight shiver runs up your spine. That’s because this was the site of a gruesome double murder. Jacques de Breze found his wife Charlotte and her lover one evening together in the castle. After his discovery, Jacques murdered them both. Legend has it the pair have haunted the castle ever since. Jacques was said to have sold the castle soon after their deaths, as he was so scared of the ghosts, and could no longer live alone in the castle.”)

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

Of Fred and Sarah, #quote from Julian Barnes “Levels of Life”

Sarah Bernhardt photographed by Félix Nadar 1865The next evening, he watched her performance, came to her dressing room, and saw many of the same faces. He made sure to pay proper attention to Mme Guérard: having been in foreign courts before, he knew to recognise the power behind the throne. Soon – much sooner than the fiercest optimism could have imagined – she came across, took Barnaby’s arm, and bade her coterie goodnight. As the three of them left, the scrimmage of Parisian dandies took care of not to appear put out. Well, perhaps they weren’t.

From Julian Barnes, “Levels of Life, On the Level” (© Julian Barnes 2013)

Image: Sarah Bernhardt photographed by Félix Nadar 1865

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: 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

Weird Paris: Saints and Sinners

Secrets of a most secretive city…

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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