Monday, 3 August 2015

#AMREADING RACHEL CUSK. Creative Writing in Athens.


  • ON THE PLANE TO ATHENS: My neighbour was a man of conventional sandy-coloured good looks, but close up there was something uneasy in his appearance, as though he had been put together out of unrelated elements…He had large white teeth which he kept always a little bared and a loose body poised somewhere between muscle and fat.
  • ON SELF-IMPROVEMENT: The notion of self-transformation was an article of faith…he could decide how he wanted to be and then be it. There was no pre-ordination.
  • ATHENS AT NIGHT: Darkness fell but otherwise the evenings were strangely without the sense of progression. It didn’t get cooler or quieter, or emptier of people; the roar of talk and laughter came unstaunched from the glaring terraces of restaurants, the traffic was a swarming, honking river of lights, small children rode their bicycles along the pavements under the bile-coloured streetlamps. Despite the darkness it was eternal day, the pigeons still scuffling in the neon-lit squares, the kiosk open on street corners, the smell of pastry still hanging in the exhausted air around the bakeries.
  • MORE SELF-IMPROVEMENT: In his marriage, the principle of progress was always at work, in the acquiring of houses, possessions, cars, the drive toward higher social status, more travel, a wider circle of friends, even the production of children felt like an obligatory calling-point on the mad journey. When there was nothing more to add, he and his wife would be beset by a great sense of futility, a kind of malaise: the feeling of stillness after a life of too much motion.
  • HUMAN AFFAIRS are like cloud banks, sometimes portentous and grey and sometimes mere distant inscrutable shapes that blotted out the sun for a while and then just as carelessly revealed it again.
(From Rachel Cusk, Outline)

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A CASE OF CHILD ABUSE, VIENNA 1894
Home of the NeueFreie Presse, Vienna

Reported in the Neue Freie Presse, 11 July 1894:
A horrible case of child abuse by foster parents aroused public indignation everywhere…A woman punished a ten-year old girl for stealing three pennies by sticking her hands into the glowing hot stove.

The couple, Eduard and Marie Springer, were taken to court. Neighbours reported that the girl, a niece of Eduard Springer, had been beaten black and blue with a cattle whip and had her head banged against the edge of the table.

On 20 June neighbours heard her cry out Please, aunt, don’t burn my hand! although Marie Springer pressed her mouth shut so forcefully that one of her teeth came loose.
The girl was called to the witness stand.

Judge: How old are you?
Girl: I will be eleven on 25 July.
Judge: Where is your father?
Girl: Dead.
Judge: Where is your mother?
Girl: In Bohemia.
Judge: Where did you live earlier on?
Girl: In a convent.
Judge: Why didn’t you stay there?
Girl: Because I was bad.
Judge: Do you want to testify against your aunt and uncle?
Girl: No, no!

Testimonials from the convent school she attended described the girl as immoral and a habitual liar.  Two other testimonials from schools she had attended described her as pugnacious. This was confirmed by the nurses in the hospital where she was recovering.

The Springers were convicted on the testimony of neighbours and the evidence given by the court physician and condemned to eight and five months respectively of penal servitude, the most severe form of incarceration.


An ugly house like this?
When the girl, who was waiting in the corridor, heard of the sentence, she wept bitterly for her uncle and aunt who had to stay “in an ugly house now”.

Monday, 27 July 2015

ADS IN A VIENNESE NEWSPAPER, 1894. WANTED: MARRIAGE. UNWANTED: PREGNANCY.
What did people advertise in 1894? I checked out a copy of the NEUE FREIE PRESSE of 8 July 1894:
Mr. Hoffmann's false front of curls
  • Do you need a false front of curls? Mr. Hoffmann has the thing for you. The newest in hairdos. Very beautiful, very natural. Only 4 florins.
  • Looking for a husband? A businessman, respected and independent, seeks the acquaintance of a Catholic miss or a childless widow with a few thousand gulden.
  • The lady in the next ad has the required money, but I fear she is not Catholic:She is pretty, very well educated, from an excellent family, with the most beautiful trousseau and a dowry of 20,000 florins, but she is looking for a Jewish suitor, who is well situated.
  • I couldn’t help notice that there are only two ads seeking matrimony and seven offering assistance to pregnant (apparently unmarried) women: Ladies can give birth here under the seal of silence and will find advice and help in matters requiring discretion.
  • A gynecologist offers a thorough cure of all female complaints. Hmm. I wonder whether pregnancy is a female complaint?
Cryptic dating:
  • Ad # 1: I am waiting for you with joy and longing. Greetings from the heart. Russian.
  • Ad # 2: Russian: Make it Wednesday, please. Half an hour later. Best.
Lacking the ardour of Ad # 1, no?


Thursday, 23 July 2015

#AMREADING ANTHONY DOERR, All the Light We cannot See.
St. Malo WWII
  • 1934 Essen: it’s steel country, anthracite country, a place full of holes. Smokestacks fume and locomotives trundle back and forth on elevated conduits and leafless trees stand atop slag heaps like skeleton hands shoved up from the underworld.
  • 1934 The fragrance of Paris (a blind girl’s impression): In the fall it smells of traffic and castor oil, bread from the bakery, camphor from Avent’s pharmacy, delphiniums and sweet peas and roses from the flower stand. On winter days it swims with the odor of roasting chestnuts; on summer evenings it becomes slow and drowsy, full of sleepy conversations and the scraping of heavy iron chairs.
  • 1940 The interrogator is waiting for information: I am quite gifted in waiting, he says, It is my one great skill. I was never much good at athletics or mathematics, but even as a boy, I possessed unnatural patience. I would wait with my mother while she got her hair styled. I would sit in the chair and wait for hours, no magazine, no toys, not even swinging my legs back and forth. All the mothers were very impressed.
  • 1942 The German troops in Russia: All winter they drive their horses and sledges and tanks and trucks over the same roads, packing down the snow, transforming it into a slick bloodstained ice-cement.  And when April finally comes, reeking of sawdust and corpses, the canyon walls of snow give way while the ice on the roads remains stubbornly fixed, a luminous internecine network of invasion.
  • 1944 The German troops in France. Werner was brought up with the motto Ordnung muss sein – There must be order. But war destroys all order, he thinks, as he looks at the smoking, ruined villages, the broken pieces of brick in the street, the frozen corpses, the shattered walls, the upturned cars, the barking dogs, the scurrying rats and lice…It’s all Hades.

Monday, 20 July 2015

#AMREADING VENDELA VIDA. Filming in Casablanca.

DRIVING TO LOCATION. The drive is supposed to take fifteen minutes. In twenty minutes you have moved ten blocks, maybe twelve. Why didn’t anyone take Casablanca traffic into the equation? asks the American producer. I grew up in L.A. Everyone always takes traffic into the equation.
THE MAKEUP LADY. When she is finished, you look into the mirror. Your skin looks as uneven as tree bark, the makeup emphasizing every ridge, bump, and dip. You thank her profusely. And rinse it off in the washroom.
WEARING A WIG: The wig is itchy on your scalp. You raise your hand to scratch your head, and the wardrobe women scream. It’s as though you’ve reached for a knife. Do not touch, the wardrobe woman says.
GREETING THE FAMOUS ACTRESS. You stand up, and as you do so, you hit your knee on the glass coffee table. You act as though you didn’t.
BEING A STAND-IN FOR THE FAMOUS ACTRESS. You are not needed for the rest of the day. The sadness of being unuseful, which is a particular type of sadness, begins to vine through your body. By 7p.m. you are wondering if you can take off your wig, scratch your scalp.
HAVING A LIFE AUDIENCE. The energy of the crowd has swarmed and collected and is harnessed toward the stage. You are certain the performers can feel this focused beam of energy too because they’re singing louder.
DATING A RICH MAN. His laugh is uproarious. He laughs like a larger man than he is. Maybe it’s the money, you think. Maybe when you have that much money in the bank you can laugh uproariously like a very large man at things that aren’t that funny.

(Source: Vendela Vida, The Driver’s Clothes Lie Empty)