Thursday 30 July 2015

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

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)

Thursday 16 July 2015

Baku oil production

  • THE OIL FIELDS IN BAKU. When Alfred, Ludvig, and Robert Nobel founded the oil company BRANOBEL in Baku, Georgia, the town was part Arabian Nights and part Byzantine boom town of baksheesh and brutality. Until then the Nobels had been purveyors of military equipment to the Tsar. In 1873 Robert Nobel had gone to Baku to buy walnut wood for gun barrels. He ended up buying several parcels of oil-rich land and a refinery.
  • BAKU 'SLUDGE'. The thick water that burned is first mentioned in the Bible and was used for centuries in the rites of fire-worshipping followers of Zoroaster at the temple of Artech-Gah near Baku.
  • THE FIRST PIPELINE.The stinking black mass, long regarded as worthless, became a valuable resource only in the 19th century. Baku oil was moved from the wells to the refineries by drivers in hand-carts until Ludvig Nobel started building pipelines. This was a first for Russia, and to many people the method seemed as mysterious as it was impractical, maybe even dangerous. The first seven-inch pipe, laid in a six-foot deep trench, was built in 1877. The work was frequently interrupted by protesting cart drivers afraid of losing their jobs. But they couldn’t stop the future. The completed pipeline generated enormous savings for the Nobels. A second line was therefore built from the refinery to the port of Baku. By 1889, 42 miles of pipelines were completed. Four hundred tons of dynamite -- Alfred Nobel’s invention – were used in the process.
  • THE COMPETITION. The success of the Nobels attracted competition from the French Rothchilds and from Standard Oil. All three companies rushed to establish European bridgeheads, a move that was necessitated by the growing supplies of the refined product from Rockefeller’s refineries.
(Source: Robert Tolf, The Russian Rockefellers. The Saga of the Nobel Family and the Russian Oil Industry. Image:

Monday 13 July 2015

Dublin pub
DUBLIN IN THE 50s: In the carpeted lounge off the hall the young women stand at the bar and order two glasses of orange and then turn to find their father sitting with a group of men in a corner… When he sees them his face darkens. He does not acknowledge them, or even glance at them later when they leave. On the way home his fuming silence fills the car. Inside the house, he breaks out. They have no shame entering a public bar like that, sitting up on high stools with men watching them. Like streetwalkers. Laughing and streecing and making a show of themselves.

THE OLD MAN. “Will I cut your hair?” she asks her father. He looks at her, baffled, stunned, as if he has suddenly found himself somewhere else.  His chin begins to quiver, and he looks down… She gets up and lays a towel on his shoulders and begins to cut his hair. Neither of them says a word…The sound of the scissors is in the air between them, the hair falling to the floor. And his sorrow, for all that is lost, lying silent within him.

AFTER LOOKING AT VAN GOGH PAINTINGS. Walking along the street, for no reason, she began to cry. ..When her tears passed, she saw things clearly. Each person’s face, the nose and eyes, the buttons on their shirts, the shivery pattern of leaves. Beauty everywhere.  After a little distance a space began to open inside her, the aftermath of pain.

A MAN IN LOVE: Minutes passed and nothing happened… She gazed at his hand resting on his thigh and longed to hold it, make something of it. She sensed a longing in him too. She closed her eyes. She remembered something she had read – that the more desperately a man is in love, the greater the violence he must do his feelings to risk offending the woman he loves by taking her hand.

(Photo source: Kavanagh's Pub, RTE Archives)

Thursday 9 July 2015

CORONATION HOOPLA. The Coronation of Alfonso of Aragon as King of Naples, 1494
De Souza as Alfonso II
  • The royal insignia: The crown was adorned with pearls and precious stones and lined with a cap of white damask, from which hung down two silk ribbons brought together beneath the chin with a button. The sword had a scabbard studded with pearls and precious stones from end to end. The silver scepter had a gilded lily at the upper end, about two and a half spans long and somewhat thinner than my little finger. The round gilded imperial globe was topped with a small gilded cross of silver. Underneath there was a metal ring with a silken cord so that the globe could be fastened to the left finger of the king in order that it might not fall from his hand.
    The real Alfonso
  • The royal dress: Alfonso entered wearing a close-fitting garment of black satin and over it a larger one of crimson colored brocade lined with flounces of ermine. On his head was a beret with a pendant of three pearls and one precious stone worth about ten thousand ducats. He kept the beret on his head until he received the crown.
  • The procedure: The Archbishop of Naples and the Patriarch of Antiochia escorted him to the altar where he knelt before the papal legate for the blessing. Then he was dressed in another garment of black satin with a long outer garment reaching down to the floor with narrow sleeves, and with sandals over black stockings. Thus he advanced to the throne and was crowned.
  • People not behaving well: The prelates could not form a proper circle because the barons, courtiers, and ambassadors crowded them and pushed forward to get a better view. Then there was a squabble over “souvenirs”: The black satin garment was due as a gift to Burchard, the master of ceremonies, but the papal legate demanded it for himself together with the beret.
(Source: The Diary of Johannes Burchardus, papal master of ceremonies)

Monday 6 July 2015

#amreading Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation.
Jenny Offill

Memories are microscopic. Tiny particles that swarm together and apart.
Here are a few swarming memories:

  • I remember the sad doggish smell of my sweater on rainy days.
  • Work seemed preferable to love. It provided a sturdier kind of happiness.
  • The reason you need a home is to keep the people you like in and everyone else out. Forget the doorbell. None of the people I like turned up that way.
  • Caring for babies is a task urgent and tedious. Providing those necessary services cuts the day up into little scraps.
  • Be careful of what you ridicule. You may end up doing some of those ridiculous things yourself. There is nothing you can be sure you will never be.
  • Avoid middle age. That’s when people who were merely eccentric for years become unmistakably mad.

Thursday 2 July 2015


Here’s another 16th century story of a May-December affair:

A young, good-looking man flirted with an old woman. Her skin was wrinkled, but he kept his eyes on her money and made a grab for it. He sweet-talked the good old woman, and promised her a great deal. He said he would be nice to her and respect her, but secretly he thought he’d break the leash and devour all her money and flog her old hide. He’d keep a young woman, run from the old filthy creature, and visit the chicken coop instead.

The old woman looked at the young man. He was well-built, his skin was smooth. I worry you’ll be rude to me, she said, and I will suffer like other old women who are being maltreated. But I expect better from you. You won’t abuse me. You will treat me in all matters like a gentleman. I shall make you my master and give you authority over the possessions my old man accumulated, as long as you do as I ask. Then they were married, but I don’t know how that marriage worked out.

(Source: Poster printed by Hans Sebald Behaim, early 16th century, my trans)